September 2002

‘I have the power…’

Serial killer Harold Shipman has admitted murdering more than 500 patients during a startling jail confession.

The 56-year-old GP told Preston Prison listener Jon Harkin that he had killed 508 people over a quarter of a century.

The official inquiry figure puts the confirmed number of killings at only 215. Former swimming pool boss, Harkin, of Stanley Street, Carnforth, was in jail for rape, false imprisonment and threats to kill.

He has now been released halfway through a seven-year sentence and is now waiting for his case to be heard by the criminal cases review board.

Harkin, 43, claims he was assigned to Shipman when the doctor was on remand at Preston prison soon after his arrest in 1998.

Father-of-five, Harkin, who is appealing against a rape conviction, was a Samaritan-trained listener.

He said he spent 12 face-to-face sessions with the convicted murderer, during which Shipman made his grislyconfession.

Harkin said: “There was a suicide watch on him. I was put in the cell with him for extra protection so he wasn’t going to swing. “His moods were always changing – highs and lows.

It all depended on who had seen him that day. “He looked proud of himself as he said he’d been doing it for the last 25 years, since his days in Todmorden. “I said ‘doing what?’ and he replied ‘Acts of God.’ I knew exactly what he meant – this is when it got really scary.

“I knew that I might not be able to cope with what was going to happen. This is why the man who filmed the racist incident on a Ryanair flight didn’t intervene – and he doesn’t regret it

“He said to me 508 with a look of total grandeur on his face, the way he was speaking was so high and mighty. “He didn’t elaborate. He didn’t use the word killing, he just said 508. “I didn’t believe it when he said 508. I thought it was impossible to take so many lives.

“I asked him why and again he said ‘they were acts of God’ and ‘I have the power’. “There was no feeling for the victims – no remorse. It was all very intense and frightening.” A Preston Prison source confirmed that Harkin had been a prisoner at the city jail and at the same time as Shipman.

She said: “We did have a Mr John Harkin here but he has been released.”

Shipman was jailed in 2000 following a trial at Preston Crown Court where he was convicted of murdering 15 elderly women.

He has never admitted guilt and an inquiry chaired by Dame Janet Smith probed a total 888 cases.

It concluded that the doctor had killed 171 women and 44 men. Shipman is now serving life at Frankland Prison, Co Durham.

Convicted rapist wins backing for parole application

CAMPAIGNERS are continuing in their fight to see convicted rapist and former Settle Swimming Pool manager Jonathan Harkin released from prison.

More than 50 members of the community, spanning all age groups and sectors of society, have sent letters supporting Harkin’s application for parole, which is due to be heard this month.

These letters follow a 200-name petition protesting Harkin’s innocence and stating they believed a miscarriage of justice had occurred.

Harkin, of Stanley Street, Carnforth, was sent to prison for seven years after being convicted of rape at Preston Crown Court in January 1999.

He was also found guilty of falsely imprisoning the victim and threatening to kill her. He had denied all the offences.

However, many in the small market town were shocked by Harkin’s conviction and have been actively involved in a campaign, led by Jean Lonsdale, of Ellwood Cottages, Langcliffe, to clear Harkin’s name.

Mrs Lonsdale said many of those who supported Harkin were people who had got to know him through his work at the pool.

She added these included elderly people who attended the Age Concern swimming group at the pool, mothers and families he had been involved with through the water babies sessions, and those younger members of the community whom he had taught in rookie lifeguard sessions.

Mrs Lonsdale, a local teacher, who also worked with Harkin when he taught special needs pupils in her care how to swim, told the Herald she would not give up the “fight for justice”.

She said: “Many of his friends and acquaintances have sent in letters saying that the community has the utmost trust in this man, believes in his innocence and believes he is no threat to the community, its families or our children.”

Mrs Lonsdale added: “It is remarkably easy to gain a conviction, it is remarkably difficult to have that conviction overturned.

“However, friends in the communities of Settle, Carnforth and Heysham have not, and will not stop trying.

“They have spent the last three and a half years gathering evidence, which hopefully will eventually be presented to the Appeal Court.”

During his time in prison, Mrs Lonsdale said Harkin had become well respected by prison officers and other inmates.

She added he had refused the opportunity to go into a protected unit and had spent his time on a normal wing of the prison.

Mrs Lonsdale added: “We feel it’s really important to clear his name as he would eventually like to work back within the community.”

She added that Harkin would find out if he had got parole this month and if he was successful, would hopefully be out of prison by the end of October.

January 1999

Backing for pool boss jailed for rape

THE former manager of Settle Swimming Pool has been jailed for seven years after being convicted of rape.

Jonathan Harkin, 39, of Stanley Street, Carnforth, was also found guilty of falsely imprisoning the victim and threatening to kill her.

The conviction has left many in the Settle community reeling with shock as Harkin was well thought of.

Harkin denied the offences but was convicted at a trial held at Preston Crown Court in December. A ban on reporting the case was imposed pending a trial into a further allegation of rape.

At a hearing this week that charge was allowed to lie on the file. However strict reporting restrictions have been imposed to protect the identity of his victim.

During the trial Harkin claimed that his victim had consented to sex and denied making any threats.

He was arrested by armed police in Settle on April 21 last year, and pupils at the nearby middle school were ordered to stay indoors.

Louise Blackwell, prosecuting, told the court that the defendant had a black gun which was around seven inches long. The victim was petrified and heard a clicking noise and was convinced he would use it.

The weapon and the ammunition were subsequently found in a police search near Settle Swimming Pool, where he had worked for four and a half years.

Harkin claimed that he had bought the airgun as a present for a teenager who was not old enough to own such a weapon.

Judge Edward Slinger described Harkin as ‘calculating and dangerous’.

The Settle community has been shocked by Harkin’s conviction, with many unable to believe that he was capable of committing a crime.

Dorothy Jobling, of Craghill Road, Horton-in-Ribblesdale, an Age Concern swimmer who uses the pool three times a week, was one of those to contact the Herald to say she still believed in his innocence.

‘During his time in Settle he made many close friends. He had the ability to ensure that those who entered the pool felt welcome and his humour and good spirits were always obvious. He showed great care and attention towards Age Concern, the disabled swimmers, water babies and everyone who used the pool. The community has supported him because he has always supported the community.’Mrs Jobling added that after Harkin’s conviction but before sentence a large number of people had written to the judge to state their feelings and support for him.

Harkin’s colleagues and friends at Settle Swimming Pool greeted the newsof his conviction with disbelief, said Helen Firth, of the pool’s management committee.

She added that since his arrest, Harkin had continued to help in the smooth running of the pool with telephone calls from custody giving guidance and advice.

And this week Jean Lonsdale, of Ellwood Cottages, Langcliffe, contacted the Herald to say that Harkin had bought the airgun as a present for her son, Ben, a lifeguard at the pool, because he was intending to learn target shooting as a skill for his Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award.

She added that Harkin was going to teach Ben as he was already involved with helping with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award through swimming and life saving courses.