Life insurance advert featuring joke about mass murdering doctor Harold Shipman banned

15 February 2023, 05:22 | Updated: 15 February 2023, 05:24

Harold Shipman murdered more than 200 patients
Harold Shipman murdered more than 200 patients. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

An advert for a life insurance company that viewers' doctors could be akin to serial killer GP Harold Shipman has been banned by authorities as offensive and distressing.

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The social media advert for DeadHappy, seen on January 23, featured images of Shipman and the text: "Life insurance... Because you never know who your doctor might be."

Shipman murdered between 215 and 260 of his patients during his time as a GP in Hyde, in Greater Manchester, making him one of the most prolific and reviled serial killers in British history.

Read more: Life insurance firm branded "absolutely disgusting" after using serial killer Harold Shipman in advert

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had 115 complaints that the the adverts irresponsibly caused serious and widespread offence and unjustified distress.

The company apologised, adding that the adverts first appeared at 2pm on January 23 and were taken down at 8am the next day when it became clear they were causing offence.

The offending advert
The offending advert . Picture: Social Media

The ASA said the adverts "trivialised and made light of the murders committed by Harold Shipman, such that they were likely to cause both serious and widespread offence to those who saw them".

It added: "We further considered that any reference to the murderer in advertising material was likely to be distressing, particularly for those who had lost family members or friends at Shipman's hands and that, in the context of an ad promoting life insurance, the distress caused was unjustified.

Harold Shipman
Harold Shipman. Picture: Getty

"We concluded that the ads were not prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society and did not comply with rules on issues of harm and offence.

"We welcomed DeadHappy's assurance that they would not be repeated."

Harold Shipman
Harold Shipman. Picture: Getty

In a statement, DeadHappy founder Andy Knott said: "We are sorry. In our attempt to be provocative and make people really stop and think about their need for life insurance, we have made a mistake and for this we apologise.

Read more: You can trust Tories - you still trust GPs after Harold Shipman, says Wakefield candidate

"We will now go away and immediately review all of our current and future marketing campaigns to ensure that we learn from this mistake."

Instagram and Facebook, where the adverts were posted, acknowledged the complaints but made no comment.

Shipman, a former GP, was convicted of 15 murders in 1998 but is estimated to have killed many more between 1975 and 1998.

He died by suicide after hanging himself inside his prison cell in 2004.

A family member of one of Shipman's victims saw the shocking advert and said in January: "As someone who's relative was murdered by Harold Shipman, your latest advert utilising his image is despicable and unacceptable."

Mr Knott had previously that "being provocative is different to being offensive and it is of course never our intention to offend or upset people. It is our intention to make people stop and think."

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