What Primrose Knew ; Dr Harold Shipman Rivals Jack the Ripper as Britain's Most Notorious Serial Killer. but His Wife Remains an Enigma. Did She Know Anything? Suspect Anything? since Her Husband Was Jailed, Nearly Two Years Ago, Primrose Shipman Has Made No Public Comment. Today, However, Her Side of the Story May Finally Be Heard

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She told no one her name, and she politely declined invitations to pop in to meet her new neighbours over a cup of tea. Nor did she invite anyone in to assuage local curiosity about what changes she might have made to the decor of the two-bedroom bungalow she was renting. Those who lived nearby assumed that the overweight, middle- aged woman who had moved in next door was simply shy.

Even when, some weeks later, she let slip that her name was Primrose, few people cottoned on. It was only when the tabloid and television journalists arrived, with their hand-delivered letters requesting that she choose them to "break her silence" - and their endless questions around the village when their requests were met with her customary refusal - that the good folk of Huttons Ambo, near York, realised that the newcomer was Primrose Shipman, the wife of Dr Harold Shipman, the worst serial killer in British criminal history.

Not long afterwards, she moved house. Again. Since her husband was convicted of killing 15 of his elderly patients - and the inquiry began into accusations that over the years he may, in fact, have murdered as many as 400 more - Primrose Shipman has been forced to move no fewer than three times.

She first left the home she had shared with the deadly doctor for more than three decades. It was a modest semi in the quiet village of Mottram, just outside the town of Hyde in Greater Manchester, where the general practitioner had preyed on those who turned to him for medical help. That was not long after Shipman was convicted at Preston Crown Court in January 2000. People had begun to hurl abuse at her in the street and refused to serve her in shops.

So she moved as far east as she could, to Whitby on the Yorkshire coast, a holiday place of childhood security. Yet she felt intimidated there too. Then came Huttons Ambo, where her father was once a farm worker. Most recently she moved to a hamlet near her home town of Wetherby, further north, where her elderly mother still lives. But it is an odd kind of pilgrimage into the past; her mother has not spoken to her for 30 years, and her father died some years ago unreconciled to his estranged daughter.

Today, however, the hiding must stop. From the first time that detectives called at Shipman's surgery one September morning in 1998 as they began to investigate the scarcely credible allegations against her husband, Primrose Shipman has refused to say a word. She stayed silent in the face of the police's inquiries; they could not compel her to talk unless they arrested her. She refused to speak to the press. She slammed the door in the face of television crews. In two years she has uttered only two words publicly: "No comment."

But now she has been subpoenaed to appear before the Shipman inquiry, the two-year investigation into the way the medico-legal system allowed Shipman, unchecked, to carry out the systematic murder of patients from his GP's practice in numbers that the local coroner has suggested could reach 1,000. Today she will enter a witness box for the first time.

She had hoped to be able to give her evidence over a video link. Her lawyers had told the inquiry that she was "uniquely terrified" of appearing in front of the public and press. Only dictators such as Slobodan Milosevic were more hated throughout the world than her husband, her lawyer had said. Mrs Shipman's fear would mean that her evidence would come across badly and she would not be believed.

Dame Janet Smith, who is chairing the inquiry, had no truck with this. "There is no good reason why Mrs Shipman should not come to this room and give her evidence in the same way as other witnesses do. She will be treated with courtesy and consideration," she said. "Mrs Shipman is not suspected of any criminal activities or any conduct for which she might be criticised. This inquiry is looking at the activities of her husband and not her. …