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A report into Shipman's activities submitted in July 2002 concluded that he had killed at least 215 of his patients between 1975 and 1998, during which time he had practised in Todmorden, West Yorkshire (1974-1975) and Hyde, Greater Manchester (1977-1998). Dame Janet Smith, the judge who submitted the report, admitted that many more suspicious deaths could not be definitively ascribed to him. In total, 459 people died while under his care. Many of the cases are shrouded in uncertainty because Shipman was often the only person to certify a death. Most of his victims were elderly women in good health.
Shipman was detected after he attempted to forge a will for one of his victims, whose exhumed body contained traces of diamorphine (the medical name for heroin, legal for pain control in the UK). He had previously been investigated by police, but they had been unable to find any evidence against him. The handling of the case at that time has been widely criticised.
He was found hanged in his cell at Wakefield Prison, West Yorkshire, at 6:20 a.m. on January 13, 2004, and was pronounced dead at 8:10 a.m. A Prison Service statement indicated that Shipman had killed himself by using bed sheets to hang himself from the bars of his cell, but an official inquiry is underway.
Shipman consistently denied his guilt and never made any statements about his actions, so his motives remain a mystery.