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The Shipman files Monday, 31 January, 2000, 16:44 GMT
Police story: Investigating Shipman
DS Postles: Shipman "belittled officers"
Det Supt Bernard Postles, who led the police investigation into Shipman, was interviewed by BBC crime correspondent Stephen Cape.

What first raised your suspicions that there was something wrong in the way that Kathleen Grundy died?

I think the best way to talk about that is the fact that Angela Woodruff, Kathleen Grundy's daughter, was the one whose suspicions were raised. She came to us after about a fortnight of investigations herself, when she was concerned about the quality of a will that had suddenly turned up, around about the time of her mother's death. And she brought those concerns, first of all to Warwickshire police, and then to ourselves.
Kathleen Grundy: Shipman falsified her will
Those documents were given to us and as soon as we looked at those documents, and the quality of them, the typing that was on them, the phraseology, it was apparent to us that they had been put together by someone other than Kathleen Grundy, because Angela Woodruff had told us how meticulous her mother was. And certainly when you look at those documents, there is no indication in those documents that they've been put together by a meticulous individual.

What was wrong with them?

They were amateurish, the phraseology was poor, and the typing quality was poor. It was actually on a document, the type you can get from a post office or a newsagents. There was a request for the body to be cremated, for example, which was not how Angela Woodruff had understood that her mother wanted her remains to be disposed of.

So those things taken together with the fact that a letter had turned up with it, and the fact that a letter had been sent to the firm of solicitors that had originally received the will, around about a week after Kathleen Grundy's death, all those things made us suspicious about the validity of that will.

When you went to Dr Shipman's surgery, you then discovered things that linked him to those documents?
Angela Woodruff: First brought Shipman to the attention of the police
That's quite right. The will and the two letters were all typed. A search of his surgery round about the 1st August revealed that typewriter in his surgery. Obviously forensic tests were carried out which confirmed that.

On the bottom of the will, forensic tests again revealed that Dr Shipman's fingerprint was on that will, and significantly, the people who purported to sign it as the witnesses, and Kathleen Grundy, none of their fingerprints were on any of those documents.

Looking back, doesn't it seem incredibly odd to you that a man accused of so many murders would do such a hack job of trying to cover something up?

Yes it does, if you view it in one way. If you view it in the way that he's made a complete and utter mess of it. But he might have been a bit cleverer than that. Here he is, he's depicting this will as being made by an 81, 82-year-old lady, so what does he do? He makes it the quality of the typing that he would expect from an 81-year-old lady. So he's perhaps been a little bit cleverer, and he's conveying to us that perhaps it is genuine.

With the resulting publicity the whole investigation widened - what happened next?

He was highly confident that he would be able to explain away these anomalies that we were going to put to him.

DS Postles
What happened was that as the publicity started to take off, people began to ring in, because what people were doing was, they were putting two and two together. Some of these people had harboured concerns about the death of their relative for quite some time, in some cases years, and what they did was, they started to hear the story that was developing in relation to Kathleen Grundy, and started to put two and two together: 'That's very similar to the way that my mother's body was discovered', for instance... and they began to ring in.

How difficult was that decision to exhume the bodies?

It was a very difficult decision. We were aware from very, very early on, even when we were dealing with the death of Kathleen Grundy, we were aware of just how difficult it would be for family members to cope with us asking, or telling them, that we proposed to apply for an exhumation warrant.

Because of that, we made sure that people were kept well-informed of developments, about what was going to happen, how the investigation would progress. We were also conscious of the fact that we needed to justify that application to the coroner - not only to the coroner but also to the families.

It was a huge risk in a way because you had the eyes of the world's press on you at the time?

Of course that's something you just have to deal with, through careful investigation of these deaths, we became confident that we could justify our actions in relation to making applications to exhume these bodies. I mean this is not a decision that we took willy nilly. We were very, very conscious of just what we were applying to do.

For instance back to the formation of Greater Manchester Police in 1974, an exhumation had never taken place in this force area - and it's one of the largest forces in the country. Now that just indicates to you just how unusual it is to exhume a body. We were well aware of our responsibilities in relation to it.

When you started to charge Dr Shipman with murder offences how did he behave?

Initially when he was interviewed about the murder of Kathleen Grundy he came across in interview as being somebody who wanted to control the situation. He saw it very much as a competition, it was very much him against the police. He wanted to dominate the interview, he was highly confident that he would be able to explain away these anomalies that we were going to put to him.

We discovered that he had altered medical records, but he failed to take into account the fact that there was an audit trail in there, which our experts actually found.

DS Postles
Some of those explanations in actual fact were illogical when you started to analyse them, but he believed when he came in to that police station he was going to be walking out a few hours later having adequately explained away the reasons for the will and the reasons why we suspected him of murdering Kathleen Grundy. Of course that's not what occurred.

He broke down on some occasions didn't he?

On the second occasion he was brought back to the police station for interview, he was to be interviewed about three murders. The officers embarked on the interview in relation to the murder of Winifred Mellor, and they again found him to be attempting to disrupt and control the interview. But as the day progressed and the evidence of alterations to computers for instance - which was irrefutable evidence as far as we were concerned - was presented to him, then he began to realise that he would not be able to talk his way out of these particular aspects.

I was actually there when that point was reached and the interview came to an abrupt halt and his solicitor asked for an adjournment at that stage so that she could consult with him. It was during that consultation that he broke down and representations were made to the custody officer and a doctor recommended that he wasn't further interviewed at that point.

You and other officers must have made a judgement of what kind of person you were dealing with...

Yes, a manipulative individual you might say, however I am not so sure that at the point where he broke down he was feigning things. I think he had come up against a point where he could just not answer the questions and the best bet was just to stay silent and as he went in to the consultation with his solicitor he realised that he would have to go back and face that question again and I think something probably triggered in his mind and he just got emotionally upset about it.

Do you think he is a clever man?

He'd like to think he himself is a clever man, he certainly belittled the officers sometimes in the interviews and tried to put forward the idea of superior intellect. He believed that he was an expert in relation to the use of technology, that he could use computers better than the next man: for instance he put forward in earlier interview the fact that he thought he was being held back by the health service in relation to computerising his practice.

But I think the reality was different. We discovered that he had altered medical records, but he failed to take into account the fact that there was an audit trail in there, which our experts actually found. He failed to take into account the fact that telephone calls that he says he made would have actually been logged by BT's computer, they didn't appear.

He failed to appreciate that his calls to the ambulance service that he said he made would have been logged by the ambulance service, so he failed to take in to account all these IT systems which were the things that tripped him up eventually.

Are you surprised in a way he wasn't caught earlier?

At the end of the day, with the exception of Kathleen Grundy... We don't seem to be able to identify a motive, beyond that, we are into speculation.

DS Postles
Yes I think I am. I am surprised that people were unable to, shall we say, put two and two together, because it became apparent at a later stage when people began to ring in, that as they started to hear parts of the story that they realised that some of the concerns that they had had a year or two before in some cases, were very, very similar. I suppose you find that there were people living in one street and two streets away somebody was telling a similar story.

How odd do you think it is that he has targeted old women or women many of them living alone?

I think a lot of what we are talking about here relates to opportunity and of course many elderly women are living alone in the community. Also I think from that point of view he had a large pool of, or a sizeable pool of people to actually choose from.

Now how he carries out that choosing process I am not so sure because there isn't, if you look across all these murders, they are not identical, there are similarities between them, but they are not identical, so I am not so sure just how he chose his victims.

What about motive though? Why would he want to kill 15 women?

I think that's the question that usually gets asked first, certainly gets asked of me first and what we have ended up doing is looking at the motives that we normally examine in a murder enquiry. They are the types of things like; greed, sexual motives, revenge, anger, those types of things.

It was suggested at one stage that it may well be a case that these women were the ones that were a drain on his resources, but that doesn't seem to have been born out anywhere. At the end of the day, with the exception of Kathleen Grundy - I mean we have got a will there - there seems to be an attempt at a deception there, but with that exception we don't seem to be able to identify a motive, beyond that we are into speculation.

Do you think his personality in any way could have driven him in that direction or helped to drive him in that direction?

Yes I think it is fair to say that. We talked about the fact that during the course of the interviews he wanted to dominate the situation, he was keen to keep control, not only control of the situation, but also control of himself. Now I am sure that whilst I am not qualified to make a clinical assessment, some psychologists may make something of that in relation to his desire to control situations.

You had a woman on the interview team. How did he react in that situation?

Well, that was in the second interview team that we actually utilised a woman. That was a deliberate ploy on our part. He had in the earlier interview, just to go into a little bit more detail as to how he had reacted to the officers, he had been rather derogatory to the officers, but especially to the constable in there.

He wasn't too bad in answering the sergeant, he was quite, I won't say happy, but he was prepared to answer the sergeant, but a little sneering towards the constable. So because of that, in an attempt to take the interview further the second time around, I thought about introducing a woman into that situation, for two reasons really.

He may well have had a more derogatory attitude towards that woman, I suspected that he may well. The second thing was that of course all his victims had been women, so it may well have been that would have an effect on him. As it was, we got to this situation where at a very significant point, he was unable to answer any further questions.

Finally to sum up, how do you feel about the whole case, you know it's probably the biggest murder investigation this country has seen, certainly in modern times?

It has been an extraordinary investigation, it has lasted now at least 18 months there have been somewhere about 70 personnel involved in it at various times, it has been an enormous investigation.

It's one of those that you are sorry to have been involved in because of the effect it's had on the victims and their families, but in another way it is the thing that you are actually trained to do and it's the one that gives you a great deal of satisfaction.

Do you think he is in fact the most prolific murderer in modern times?

I think that just on numbers at present he is.

DS Postles
"It has been an extraordinary investigation"
Find out more about the Shipman murders

Trial and reaction

See also:

31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
31 Jan 00 | The Shipman files
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