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Relatives of Shipman victims win first round in fight for open inquiry

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7256.260 (Published 29 July 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:260
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    Relatives of victims of the English GP and serial killer Harold Shipman scored a decisive vic-tory last week in their bid to force the health secretary, Alan Milburn, to hold an open inquiry into how the GP was able to succeed in murdering so many patients.

    At the High Court in London, Lord Justice Kennedy, sitting with Mr Justice Jackson, declared that Mr Milburn's decision to hold the inquiry in private breached article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to freedom of expression.

    The far reaching judgment will substantially limit the scope for official inquiries into matters of public concern to be held in private in future. The European Convention will not become part of English law until 2 October, but in the meantime the judges are starting to apply it to prevent the courts being clogged up by appeals from October.

    The court quashed Mr Milburn's decision and ordered him to think again. He had not consulted the families properly before reaching it, said the judges. But his room for manoeuvre has been severely limited by the ruling on article 10, and it will now be virtually impossible for him to hold the inquiry in private.

    The judges said the factors that persuaded Mr Milburn not to open the inquiry to the public—that it would be quicker and that witnesses would speak more freely—were not of sufficient weight to persuade “a reasonable decision maker” to reach the conclusions he did.

    The High Court challenge was launched by 113 relatives of 55 known or suspected victims of Harold Shipman, from Mottram in Longendale, Greater Manchester, who is serving a life sentence for murdering 15 patients.


    Embedded Image

    Smoking falls in young teenagers

    This graph, showing that the number of 11–15 year olds in England smoking regularly fell from 11% to 9% between 1998 and 1999, is published in the latest Statistical Bulletin, produced by the Office for National Statistics and the Department of Health. The bulletin points out: “Since the 1998 figure was also lower than that for 1996 (13%), it seems likely that the fall is a real one.

    However inspection of the series of data since 1982 suggests that it would be unwise to predict from this that the prevalence of smoking among this age group will continue to fall in future. The proportion of 11–15 year olds smoking regularly has fluctuated between highs of 13% in 1984 and 1996, to lows of 8% and 9% in 1988 and 1999 respectively. The current reduction has occurred mainly among 14 and 15 year olds.”

    The findings are based on preliminary results from the ONS survey First Release: Drug Use, Smoking and Drinking Among Young Teenagers in 1999, published in May. It can be accessed at www.statistics.gov.uk/press_release/Archive.asp. The main report is due to be published in the autumn

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