Life insurer under fire over 'absolutely disgusting' Harold Shipman advertising campaign

Deadhappy advert Harold Shipman
Deadhappy advert Harold Shipman

A life insurance company has been criticised after producing an advert that features one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers.

DeadHappy, which has a reputation for “shock factor” publicity stunts, placed an image of Harold Shipman alongside text reading: “Life insurance: Because you never know who your doctor might be”.

The advert, published on Facebook, was decried as tasteless, with the former GP believed to have killed hundreds of people over two decades before his arrest in 1998.

Shipman was found guilty of murdering 15 elderly patients in 2000 and sentenced to life imprisonment. Four years later, he hanged himself in Wakefield Prison.

Kathryn Knowles, founder of insurance broker Cura, said she would report the “absolutely disgusting” advert to City regulator the Financial Conduct Authority and the advertising watchdog.

She continued: “I just don’t see how anyone in their right mind could have thought this was the right thing to do. People within our industry are appalled, absolutely appalled.”

Noting that some relatives of Shipman’s victims are still alive, Ms Knowles added: “Why would you put people through that?”

Harold Shipman advert
Harold Shipman advert

Tim Morris, a financial adviser with Russell & Co, said: “It’s still something that is very sensitive and it’s affecting people who are still alive and will be suffering from what happened.

“It takes quite a bit to go too far for me, but they’ve definitely managed to go over that limit.”

In the past, DeadHappy – whose logo is of a grinning skull – has denied being deliberately offensive in its publicity campaigns.

The company operated hearse rides around Leeds and Newcastle in a 22-foot Cadillac last June, on the condition that passengers had “an open and honest conversation about death”. At the same time, it set up a scavenger hunt for tombstones to “cause even more of a stir”.

Founder Andy Nott admitted that the advert was “provocative” but said his company was motivated by raising awareness about the need for life insurance.

He said: “It is our intention to make people stop and think. If however you have been personally distressed by this advert we do sincerely apologise.

“We do take risks with our brand and sometimes we may step over the line, whatever or wherever that line may be, and whoever chooses to draw it.”

In December 2019, the Advertising Standards Authority suspended a DeadHappy advert, ruling that it trivialised suicide and had used it to promote life insurance.