Colin Norris

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Colin Norris
Born (1976-02-12) 12 February 1976 (age 46)
Milton, Glasgow, Scotland
Criminal chargeMurder
PenaltyLife imprisonment
Details
Victims5 (4 murdered, 1 survived)
Span of crimes
May 2002–November 2002
CountryEngland
Location(s)Leeds General Infirmary and St James's University Hospital, Leeds
WeaponOverdoses of insulin
Date apprehended
2002
Imprisoned atHM Prison Frankland

Colin Norris (born 12 February 1976)[1] is a former nurse and serial killer from the Milton area of Glasgow, Scotland, who was found guilty of murdering four elderly patients and attempting to murder another, in two hospitals in Leeds, England in 2002. He was sentenced in 2008 to serve a minimum of 30 years in prison.

Doubts were later raised about his conviction by, among others, retired Professor Vincent Marks, an expert on insulin poisoning. Norris lost an appeal against his conviction in 2009. In February 2021 the Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the case to the Court of Appeal.

Background[edit]

Norris originally worked as a travel agent after leaving college, but after a few years in this role decided to retrain as a nurse.[2] His academic record was average, but he became known for being quick to anger and his aggressive confrontations with tutors and, later, employers.[2] His behaviour towards university lecturers at the University of Dundee was described as "unacceptable".[3] After qualifying in June 2001, he began working as a nurse in Leeds, but quickly fell out with authority figures and experienced staff.[2][4] He often refused to work with elderly patients, saying he "didn't want to be working with that type of person", which was distinctly unusual for someone working in the medical profession.[5] Norris admitted to police he found elderly patients challenging, saying that he initially found it difficult to wash elderly female patients who couldn't bathe themselves because he "couldn't get used to the smells".[2] At times during his placements he repeatedly refused to change patients or their bedding.[6] He had previously told another nurse during a training placement in 2001 that he "didn't like working with geriatric patients", and something minor such as an elderly patient throwing bed covers off could cause him considerable anger.[4][2] He had also said he hated his training placements in geriatric units.[4][2] Norris refused to attend his one placement at a nursing home for the elderly, and also often called in sick during placements at other nursing homes.[6][4]

Criminal background[edit]

Norris was found to have committed a theft in the early part of his nursing career.[5] He had assisted another colleague in stealing drugs from a hospital but was caught.[5] Although Norris would have known that he risked losing his job for it, especially since the drug supply in the hospital was heavily monitored, he did not lose his position for the action.[5] Police investigating his subsequent murders would later note that this event indicated Norris's lack of integrity in his role early on.[5]

Murders[edit]

At the time of the murders, Norris worked at Leeds General Infirmary and St James's University Hospital in Leeds, having only qualified as a nurse a year earlier.[6][7][4] Suspicions were raised when Norris predicted the death of one patient, Ethel Hall, saying to a fellow nurse hours before: "I predict 5:15 am as being the time Ethel Hall will become unwell".[2] This was despite there being no medical indications of an impending illness.[4] Hall's condition then worsened badly that morning around 5 am and she died some weeks later. After Hall had become unwell nurses including Norris came to tend to her, at which point Norris tapped his watch and said to the nurse he had predicted Hall's illness to earlier "I told you".[2] He had also complained earlier, before there were any indications she was unwell, that he would have to fill out the paperwork for her death.[8] Norris also stated at the time: "it is always in the morning when things go wrong" and "someone always dies when I do nights".[9][2] When questioned by police about this and three other patients who had unexpectedly died while he was on duty, he said "he seemed to have been unlucky over the last 12 months".[9] The four patients were 79, 80, 86 and 88 years old.[10] The police investigated 72 cases in total.[10]

Police evidence[edit]

Chief Superintendent Chris Gregg said that Norris' prediction of Hall's illness showed that it wasn't just a spontaneous incident where a criminal nurse at work had, for whatever reason decided to kill someone, saying "he actually premeditated this, hours before". Gregg said: "I think he was cocky; I think he was over-confident. He was showing off".[2] A criminal psychologist stated that, despite Norris's prediction, it was unlikely that he wanted to get caught, rather that he merely wanted to demonstrate a sense of superior knowledge.[1] Police noted that, in interviews, Norris showed no empathy for the women who had died or for their families.[2]

It was decided to investigate the deaths of 72 people who had died on the ward while Norris was working, and a special medical panel decided that 18 of the 72 deaths should be reviewed by independent medical experts.[2] The experts confirmed police suspicions that the deaths of three women were as a result of lethal injections of insulin, but they also identified two more victims, one who had also died of insulin poisoning and another who had survived a massive injected overdose.[2] A blood sample was taken from Ethel Hall posthumously after a doctor raised concerns and ordered blood tests, and her blood was found to contain an inexplicably massive amount of insulin – 1000 units in just one sample – and this became the main hard evidence in the police case.[2][8] The doctor who had ordered the tests was a diabetes expert who specialised in insulin and hypoglycemic episodes, and she believed the incident to be suspicious.[5] The amount of insulin in Hall's blood was about 12 times the normal level.[11] The only nurse that had cared for all five of the patients and had been there within 2 hours of them becoming catastrophically ill was Norris.[2] Norris had been one of the few who was on duty at the time of Hall's deterioration in health.[2] Police analysed medical staff rotas, phone records and personnel files to determine who had access to the wards, insulin and who was on the wards at the time of that incident, and it was found that all staff members except Norris could be ruled out.[2]

It was determined that, in the first incident on 17 May 2002,[where?] Norris had apparently injected patient Vera Wilby (who was at hospital due to a broken hip) with a dose of the painkiller morphine to make her drowsy, before administrating more drugs and going off shift.[4] 90 minutes after he went off shift, Wilby was found to be semi-conscious and suffering from a sudden and inexplicable hypoglycaemic attack, but she survived.[4] On 12 June, another patient was admitted to Norris' hospital with a broken hip, Doris Ludlam.[4] On 25 June, she was also given an unnecessary injection of painkillers followed by drugs to reduce her blood sugar, and Norris then went off shift.[4] She was discovered in a coma 40 minutes after he went off shift.[4] 88-year-old Bridget Bourke, who had been admitted to the hospital on 16 June also with a broken hip, was then discovered at 3.10 am on 21 July suffering from an inexplicable hypoglycaemic attack and she died the next day.[4] On 10 October, 79-year-old Irene Crooks was also admitted to the ward with a broken hip.[4] Despite Norris recording that her condition was improving, he found her "totally unresponsive" just before 6 am on 19 October, having suffered a hypoglycaemic attack.[4] She then died the next day.[4] A colleague later stated that Norris had shown no desire to revive Crookes after she fell into a coma.[12] Another colleague also later claimed that Norris had watched in 'detached amusement' after one of the victims had fallen into a coma.[13] Along with Ethel Hall, none of these women were diabetic, and all of them had been admitted to the wards simply suffering from broken hips.[4]

It was discovered after Hall's death that insulin had also been taken from the storage fridge, and Norris later admitted that he was the last person to have accessed this fridge before Hall had been injected with insulin.[2] Two vials of insulin were found to have been taken from the fridge, which had to have been taken by someone during the night shift which Norris was working when Hall became unwell.[5] Norris had on a previous occasion been caught stealing drugs from the hospital.[5] Norris also admitted that he was the last person to see Hall at 4.30 am, half an hour before she fell into the coma at around 5 am.[2]

When police questioned him about this, he responded by saying: "obviously if someone was to kill someone, they wouldn't leave their signature would they? To say that they were there".[2] The police were also dismissive of Norris's denials, believing that the suggestion that someone had come on to the ward during this time and gone onto a bay to inject a patient before sneaking away without anybody realising was highly implausible.[2] Investigators stated that Norris did not seem to be explicitly denying the murders, but insisting that they could not be proved.[2]

Norris behaved particularly bizarrely in the interviews he had with the police.[5] Throughout the interviews he acted notably aggressive and arrogant, challenging detectives, and became physically angry at times to the point where he had to be restrained.[5] Criminologist Dr Jane Monkton-Smith stated that it was particularly unusual that Norris didn't behave as if he wanted to defend himself in interviews, but instead wanted to challenge the police and act evasively.[5] Norris would later admit that he was trying to show how much more he knew than the police in interviews.[5]

Police also discovered that Norris had mistreated other elderly patients in the past. In one instance, an elderly man had requested Norris to empty his catheter bag, only for Norris to flatly refuse and insist he did it in the bathroom himself, before going off duty.[1] The elderly man then collapsed after trying to reach the bathroom himself.[1] Other patients stated that Norris had treated them in an offhand and callous manner, and that Norris had an apparent dislike of old people.[1] Two elderly ex-patients said that Norris had verbally abused them after they rang an emergency buzzer on a ward when an elderly patient climbed out of bed, with Norris then saying to them "I hope you suffer" and "rot in hell".[6]

Trial[edit]

The trial, at Newcastle Crown Court, took 19 weeks and the jury deliberated for four days. Norris was convicted, by an 11-1 majority verdict,[2] on 3 March 2008, of the murder of four women, and the attempted murder of a fifth aged 90.[11] He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and ordered to serve a minimum term of 30 years in prison the following day.[14] Norris had acted particularly aggressively throughout the trial, banging on the windows of the judge and attacking members of the press when departing the court.[2] Judge Mr Justice Griffith rejected any possibility that Norris was practising euthanasia because none of the victims was terminally ill.[10] He told Norris when sentencing:

"You are, I have absolutely no doubt, a thoroughly evil and dangerous man. You are an arrogant and manipulative man with a real dislike of elderly patients. The most telling evidence was that observation of one of your patients, Bridget Tarpey, who said 'he did not like us old women'."[10]

Referred to in the British press as the "Angel of Death", Norris was convicted of killing his victims by injecting them with high levels of insulin.[9] The four victims were:[4]

  • Doris Ludlam, died 27 June 2002.
  • Bridget Bourke, died 22 July 2002.
  • Irene Crooks, died 20 October 2002.
  • Ethel Hall, died 11 November 2002.

All of these victims had been killed in Norris' first year of working as a nurse.[2]

Ethel Hall's son, Stuart Hall, expressed his satisfaction at Norris' conviction, stating: "I think he needs to be kept inside".[2] After the verdict was announced, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust apologised to the victims' families for Norris's "disturbing" crimes, subsequently describing him as an "extremely dangerous criminal".[11] In 2009, the Nursing and Midwifery Council struck off Norris from the medical register, taking just 5 minutes to come to a decision on the matter.[15]

Norris is imprisoned in HM Prison Frankland.[16]

Motive[edit]

Jessie McTavish, a nurse convicted and then cleared in 1974 for the murder of an 80-year-old patient with insulin, has been identified as a possible inspiration for Norris.[6] Norris' personal tutor at university gave a specific talk to him and other students on her case a year before Norris committed his first attack, in which Norris used the same method as McTavish had been accused of using.[4][17][6] Norris had notably also attended lectures in 1999 on diabetes and the treatment of diabetic patients with insulin, and had specifically been taught during one placement about the management of patients with diabetes.[4]

Forensic psychiatrist Sir Richard Badcock, the only psychiatrist to formally assess the serial killer doctor Harold Shipman, stated his belief that Norris was a psychopath, who killed elderly patients simply because they got in his way.[2] Chris Gregg agreed and said that he believed that Norris decided to poison the women simply because he found elderly patients irritating.[2]

Aftermath[edit]

Failed appeal[edit]

Norris appealed against his conviction in 2009.[18] However, he lost this appeal, with judge Lord Justice Aikens ruling the convictions were "safe" and saying that the case against Norris was "very strong indeed".[18] The appeal court rejected both grounds of the appeal, which related to directions given to the jury by the trial judge, saying that the directions "cannot validly be criticised" and that there was no misdirection to the jury.[18] The appeal court instead said that the judge's summary in the original case was an exemplary "tour de force".[5]

Inquiry[edit]

In 2010, an independent inquiry into Norris' murders was held.[19] The inquiry recommended the introduction of 'student practice passports', which would report on the personality and integrity of students while they trained as medical professionals at university.[19] It was felt that this may have flagged up Norris as an issue earlier had they been in use at the time of his studying, since he had knowingly acted aggressively during placements, had a poor absence record and had clashed with tutors on numerous occasions.[19][2] These 'passports', it was argued, would allow universities to evaluate at the end of a student's course whether the individual was fit to join the medical register.[19] The inquiry found that the University of Dundee had not identified Norris' difficulties in its reference to employers, and the inquiry concluded that organisational, systems and cultural factors provided an opportunity for Norris to murder the four women in 2002.[19] Nurse managers had already been urged after Norris' conviction in 2008 to take greater care when recruiting staff, and NHS Employers had introduced new guidance on pre-employment checks.[13]

Concerns over the conviction[edit]

On 4 October 2011 new concerns were raised about the safety of Norris' conviction. Retired Professor Vincent Marks – a leading expert on insulin poisoning – said the jury at Norris' trial was led to believe by experts that a cluster of hypoglycaemic episodes, among people who were not diabetic, was sinister. The professor said international medical studies carried out in the years since the 35-year-old Glaswegian was convicted told a different story. "Looking at all the evidence, all I can say is I think Colin Norris' conviction is unsafe," he said.[20][21] According to statistical experts, however, severe hypoglycaemic episodes in non-diabetic patients are a very rare occurrence, and to have five such cases in a hospital in such a short space of time, of which four of the cases led to the death of the patients was extraordinary.[5] The scientific expert called by Norris's defence team himself said at trial that the five cases being present at the same place in small space of time was extraordinary.[5]

Prof Marks says the four patients picked out by the experts after Mrs Hall's death "were all at very high risk of developing spontaneous hypoglycaemia" because they had risk factors such as malnutrition, infection and multi-organ failure.[22] However, when an individual has a hypoglycaemic attack from an insulin that is produced naturally in the body, C-peptides are produced which will be detected in any blood tests.[5] The analysis of tests on all of the victims in this case did not show any presence of C-peptides, indicating that the insulin was introduced into their bodies externally.[5]

In 2011 Louise Shorter, the former producer of BBC's Rough Justice, and journalist Mark Daly produced the documentary A Jury in the Dark, arguing that there were logical, non-criminal explanations for all the deaths.[23] During research for the film, Daly states he discovered an additional death at Leeds General Infirmary which police had initially been investigating as a potential murder carried out by a male nurse, however; the death "went from suspicious to non-suspicious", when police learned that Norris was not on duty at the time.[24]

In May 2013 the Criminal Cases Review Commission confirmed it was re-examining the Norris case in the light of new medical and scientific evidence contradictory to that submitted to the jury during the original trial.[24] However, in 2014, the son of victim Vera Wilby, John Barrie Wilby, said that he was "sad and upset" about the claims that Norris may be innocent, and said that he was still convinced of his guilt.[25] In January 2015 the foreman of the jury that convicted Norris told the BBC that he now believes him to be innocent; apparently the second member of the jury to do so.[26] In February 2021 the CCRC referred the case to the Court of Appeal, saying there was a serious possibility that the conviction was unsafe.[27]

Similar cases[edit]

In the aftermath of Norris's conviction, the British media drew comparisons with Harold Shipman, Britain's most prolific serial killer, who killed more than 250 patients by lethal injection. Shipman had been finally convicted in the year 2000, only two years before the start of Norris's crimes, and only one year before Norris qualified as a nurse.[2][4] The same police team that worked on the Shipman case was given the responsibility of investigating the Norris case.[2] Detective Chief Superintendent Chris Gregg, who worked on the Shipman case and led the Norris investigation, was convinced that Colin Norris would have gone on to kill considerably more people if he had not been stopped.[28]

In 2006 Benjamin Geen, a nurse at Horton General Hospital in Banbury, Oxfordshire, was given 17 life sentences for murdering two of his patients and attacking 15 others. He allegedly used a variety of injections which often included insulin, but his case is also controversial.[29] Along with Geen and other nurses who were convicted of killing their patients, Norris had committed his crimes within two years of his first shift as a registered nurse.[13]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "Angel of Death". ITV Productions. 12 April 2008. Archived from the original on 16 November 2011. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Real Crime: Angel of Death Part 1. ITV (Television production). 4 December 2006. Archived from the original on 21 December 2021.
  3. ^ "Failings allowed Leeds nurse Colin Norris to kill". BBC.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Colin Norris, Angel of Death nurse: Timeline". Telegraph.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Colin Norris (Series 1, episode 8). Nurses Who Kill (TV documentary). Really. 30 November 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Stokes, Paul (2 March 2008). "Colin Norris: From student to deadly abuser". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 30 April 2010.}
  7. ^ Ford, Steve (2008). "Could Colin Norris have been stopped?". Nursing Times. 104 (10): 8–9. PMID 18416393.
  8. ^ a b "Death forecast led to conviction". BBC News. 3 March 2008. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
  9. ^ a b c Chivers, Tom (3 March 2008). "Colin Norris, 'Angel of Death' nurse, convicted". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 15 March 2008. Retrieved 3 March 2008.
  10. ^ a b c d Jenkins, Russell (5 March 2008). "Killer nurse Colin Norris must serve at least 30 years". The Times. London. Retrieved 30 April 2010.[dead link]
  11. ^ a b c "Nurse guilty of killing patients". BBC News. 3 March 2008. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
  12. ^ "Accused nurse predicted patients' time of death". Nursing Standard. 22 (7): 6. October 2007.
  13. ^ a b c Harrison, Sarah (March 2008). "Tougher pre-employment checks not expected to prevent murders". Nursing Standard. 22 (27): 10.
  14. ^ "Killer nurse must serve 30 years". BBC News. 4 March 2008. Retrieved 4 March 2008.
  15. ^ "Killer nurse struck off register". BBC.
  16. ^ Lindsay, Kali; Warburton, Dan (6 January 2019). "Killer nurse starts prison foodbank that feeds County Durham families". ChronicleLive. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  17. ^ "The hatred that turned Colin Norris into serial killer". www.scotsman.com. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  18. ^ a b c "Killer nurse loses appeal against conviction". BBC. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  19. ^ a b c d e Dean, Erin (February 2010). "Serial killer inquiry prompts call for student practice passports". Nursing Standard. 24 (22): 6. doi:10.7748/ns.24.45.6.s4.
  20. ^ "Professor Vincent Marks". The Academy of Experts. Retrieved 17 July 2017.[dead link]
  21. ^ "Colin Norris jury 'misled' says insulin expert". bbc.co.uk. 4 October 2011. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
  22. ^ "Colin Norris case: Murder convictions 'unsafe'". The BBC. London. 4 October 2011. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  23. ^ "Hospital Serial Killer: A Jury in the Dark". Inside Time. London. October 2011. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  24. ^ a b "Fresh evidence challenges 'Angel of Death' nurse Colin Norris' conviction". Guardian. 20 May 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2013.
  25. ^ "He's still guilty: Son of pensioner killed by Leeds nurse Colin Norris after BBC documentary". Yorkshire Post. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  26. ^ "Colin Norris: Juror's doubt over serial killer verdict". BBC News. 28 January 2015. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  27. ^ "Colin Norris: Serial killer nurse case referred to Court of Appeal". BBC. Retrieved 22 April 2021.
  28. ^ Stokes, Paul; Britten, Nick (4 March 2008). "Colin Norris, 'Angel of Death' nurse, jailed for life". The Daily Telegraph. London. Archived from the original on 10 May 2008. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
  29. ^ "Echoes of Sensational Case From 1970s – Health – redOrbit". Retrieved 23 March 2008.

External links[edit]