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Shipman Enquiry Case Study

By The Drum | Administrator

February 12, 2003 | 7 min read

Client: The Shipman Inquiry


Agency:Idaho and “Spoken” Image in partnership

New media solution providers Idaho and creative communication specialists “Spoken” Image were appointed by The Shipman Inquiry, the independent public inquiry established to investigate the unlawful activities of former GP Harold Shipman, in February 2001 to produce a ground-breaking web-based public record of the entire proceedings. It is believed to be the first time such a body has embraced new media to provide the foundation for archive and communication in such depth.

The approach to the technical build was thorough and measured. The team was aware that the site had to be highly scalable; it had to be capable of cross-referencing tens of thousands of documents with hundreds of thousands of words that make up the evidence of the Inquiry. The design of the site ensured that nothing could get lost amongst the vast array of content that would be built up day after day. The site continues to grow daily with uploads of transcripts and evidential documents in PDF format.

Before the start of the Inquiry hearings, the team began the task of analysing the type of information and how the site would be used, not just by the public and the news media, but also by the Inquiry team itself. The brief was that the site was to be the main ‘library’ for all the material disseminated at the inquiry hearings held in Manchester Town Hall Extension. The hardest part of planning was to store this information with context. A user-centric plan was developed over several weeks which became the backbone for the solution that was built. At the front end of the site, “Spoken” Image provided a visual identity toned to the gravity of the subject matter that was easy enough to be used by the public, legal parties, the world’s news media and the Inquiry team itself.

Through meticulous planning and daily content management the site has become a flexible and powerful way of navigating the daily transcripts and documents that form the core of any public inquiry. The unique way in which the site has been planned allows organic growth and speed of delivery that has accounted for significant savings in time and resources for the Inquiry itself. Not a single web page or line of code was created until a detailed analysis of the workings of the Inquiry had been completed and the potential for presenting this information to the public through the website had been explored.

The result of this process is an advanced automated content management system which reflects the workings and information management systems in place at the Inquiry. Transcripts of the day’s hearings are uploaded and linked to documentary evidence normally within two hours of the end of the day and hundreds of documents can be swiftly uploaded, indexed and made available for viewing.

Many previous public inquiries employed manual publishing methods and the benefits of the Shipman Inquiry’s solution are clear – tasks that would take up to two days using manual publishing methods can now take only minutes.

The close working partnership between the Inquiry team, Idaho and “Spoken” Image has made this feat possible.

One of the major challenges faced in the project is the very large amount of information produced by the Inquiry both during hearings and at other times. Many sites capture information from an event or exhibition lasting weeks or months but the work of the Inquiry is expected to continue into 2004. Adaptability and innovation are therefore qualities we are called on to employ on a regular basis.


Eighteen months into the project the Shipman Inquiry published its First Report, identifying which of the hundreds of cases considered by the Inquiry were victims of Shipman. Our brief was to produce an online version of the report to be published simultaneously with the printed version, in the most cost-efficient way. The printed report comprises 2,300 pages in six volumes and weighs around seven kilos. The team made extensive use of the latest typesetting technologies and exploited the versatility of XML so that the integration of the First Report into the existing website became an easily accessible extension of the hard-copy typeset and publication processes employed by the Inquiry. A fully automated process allowed typeset content to be delivered to Idaho for proofing where specially developed content management tools indexed, formatted and published the copy to the website database. The complete eradication of manual formatting and processing for the website version of the First Report allowed updated copy to be published to the website within minutes.

Since the launch of the website as the library of the Inquiry in May 2001, it has kept a continuous archive of the daily transcripts and evidence placed in the public domain including a comprehensive list of individual cases being considered by the Inquiry. The data-centric focus of the website allowed the First Report to be published, not just with content, but with context. This meant that instant reciprocal linking could be created between the evidence considered in each case and the corresponding decision of The Inquiry’s Chairman – Dame Janet Smith – in the First Report. Such linking of over 494 decisions required no manual intervention due to the highly structured database modelling used at the website’s inception and sustained over its development.

The First Report was published on the website simultaneously with the launch of the printed version. In the 36 hours that followed, the site received over two million hits and was linked to by many major news organisations from around the world. Through advanced design the site was easily able to cope with each request without any failure.

The site has had wide acclaim from the press, not only because it is simple to use, but also because they can rely on it to give them the latest information.

The website has been acknowledged across the world; to date it has won Best Information Site at both the ICVA Biz-Net Awards in London and at The Big Chip Awards in Manchester, and has also been one of the few European-based solutions to be highly commended at the International New Media Awards in Canada.

A spokesperson for the Inquiry said: “The Inquiry’s intention in commissioning its website from Idaho and “Spoken” Image was to provide a library that was both accessible and easily navigable, especially for those who were unfamiliar with the web. These requirements have been fully realised and we are pleased to have helped drive forward the way in which new media is used by public inquiries.”

The Shipman Inquiry website has demonstrated in terms of time, costs and flexibility, the benefits of structured database modelling and content management over the traditional manual methods of website management and content updates. The project is ongoing and the way the site is built will allow it to comfortably handle future requirements. Mike Ryan from Idaho sums up the success felt by all. “This is a triumph of technology, innovation but above all partnership. By listening to the Inquiry, Idaho and “Spoken” Image have together produced a solution that is bespoke and fits the bill perfectly”.


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