Shipman victim feared visit from 'angel of death'

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Kenneth Smith's brother and next-door neighbour had both died in the company of Harold Shipman and the thought of being left alone with the doctor filled him with fear. "Don't let him come here. He's the angel of death," he told his nephew in 1996.

Mr Smith was dead two days later, the third of five elderly people in Garden Street, Hyde, Greater Manchester, to have perished in the GP's presence, the public inquiry into Shipman's crimes heard yesterday.

Dame Janet Smith, chairing the inquiry at Manchester Town Hall, said she must call on the Smith brothers' nephew to give evidence "second hand" because all witnesses to their deaths had died within nine months of each other.

Mr Smith's brother Sidney, 76, who died in his chair at 17 Garden Street on 30 August 1996, was followed on 4 December by his next-door neighbour Thomas Cheetham and then on 17 December by Kenneth himself. Next came Elsie, Mr Cheetham's wife. She died unexpectedly on 26 April. The death of Josephine Hall, 69, who lived at Number 11, is also being investigated by the inquiry.

There was no previous sign of illness in Sidney Smith, a devotee of Shipman. He was "happy" living at home with his younger but less mobile brother Kenneth, cooking him meals and fetching his shopping without complaint, his nephew Stephen Phelps told the inquiry.

He would "soldier on" whenever possible rather than bother his doctor. But after a shopping trip to Hyde on 30 August he was paid an unexpected visit by Shipman and his brother retired to the kitchen.

After five minutes Shipman's head appeared around the door and he pronounced Sidney in need of hospital. Shipman returned to the living room. He was back a minute later, revealing that Kenneth had "gone". Abruptly, Shipman left Kenneth with his dead brother.

Shipman's record stated he and Kenneth were both present at the moment of death, that it had been in the morning and that Kenneth had "nursed" Sidney through his "last illness".

Three months later Shipman visited Mr Cheetham, who had cancer. Mrs Cheetham said she was popping out to the shops. When she returned, her husband appeared to be sleeping in his chair with Shipman standing over. The doctor said without emotion: "He's gone."

For all Kenneth Smith's fears, Shipman was back just 17 days later. Mrs Cheetham had delivered his food and gone to bingo. On her return, a window cleaner said he was worried about Mr Smith.

He had died at 4pm, according to death registration documents, but Shipman's record of the death had been made at the surgery 15 minutes before. Shipman said the body was found by Mrs Cheetham "bringing the tea in". She had done nothing of the sort.

The doctor visited her on 26 April 1997 after she called his surgery, describing symptoms that could have meant she was having a coronary. His medical notes on her death said simply: "Elsie Cheetham – funny do."

The inquiry continues.