A British family doctor was acquitted on Wednesday of murdering three of his patients with large doses of morphine.
Howard Martin, 71, a retired army officer from North Wales, was found not guilty by Teesside Crown Court of "deliberately terminating" the lives of three seriously ill men, after a six-week trial. No decision has been made on whether police will look into the deaths of other patients under the care of Dr Martin, who practiced at three surgeries in Co Durham.
The married father of four and a GP for more than 40 years, Martin was alleged to have murdered Frank Moss (59), Stanley Weldon (74) and Harry Gittins (74). They died between March 2003 and January last year.
The prosecution had claimed that Dr Martin had given them morphine overdoses because he felt it was their time to die.
But Anthony Arlidge, QC, for the defence, argued that the Crown had not proved that the drugs were responsible for the deaths. The GP was arrested after Mr Gittins's family raised concerns about his treatment, and the bodies of Mr Moss and Mr Weldon were exhumed.
All the charges centered on allegations that Dr Martin, who now lives in Penmaenmawr, north Wales, deliberately gave his patients overdoses of morphine.
Cancer sufferer Gittins died on March 21st 2003. Weldon, who was in a nursing home suffering from dementia, died on March 18th in the same year and Moss, who also had cancer, died on March 14th. All three had been visited by Dr Martin shortly before their deaths.
In a statement read out on Dr Martin's behalf, his representative said outside the court, 'Dr Martin has always maintained that he was doing no more than relieving the suffering of his patients as he was legally entitled to do.'
But the families of the dead men have reacted with anger following the decision. Harry Gittins' daughter Jillian Coates, who triggered the police investigation by raising concerns about the treatment her father received from Dr Martin, said saying she was saddened and disappointed with the not guilty verdicts today. "We still do not know why Dr Martin deemed it necessary to inject my dad with such an excessive cocktail of drugs. Dr Martin has yet to inform us of the reason why, as so far he has refused to answer any questions."
The case bore similarities to that of Harold Shipman, Britain's most prolific serial killer, who was jailed in 2000 for killing 15 patients by lethal injections of diamorphine. An inquiry later ruled he had probably murdered more than 250. Shipman hanged himself in his prison cell in January 2004.
Dr Martin was alleged to have made a deliberate and unlawful decision to end the lives of his three patients "because their time had come to die". The court was told that he injected the men with 60mg doses of morphine - between six and 12 times the recommended dose.