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A Data Detective Story: Did A British Nurse Kill His Patients?

“I seem to have a jinx,” says Benjamin Geen, a former nurse who is in prison serving 17 life terms after being convicted of two murders and of causing grievous bodily harm to 15 other people. In the winter of 2003-04, more than a dozen patients admitted to Horton General Hospital in Banbury, England, suffered severe respiratory failure. Geen was a nurse on duty during all of the incidents, and that statistical anomaly set off an investigation that ended in his imprisonment. Geen maintains his innocence, and some statisticians who’ve investigated the case claim that, while unlikely, the pattern of deaths does not inherently point to criminal behavior.

On this week’s episode of our podcast What’s The Point, we present a 25-minute radio documentary, “An unusual pattern,” that was reported by science journalist Joel Werner (who helps produce WTP each week) and first aired on the Australian Broadcasting Corp.’s “Health Report.” Werner investigates the Geen case and explores why it’s so hard to tell whether statistical patterns point to crime or mere coincidence.

Stream or download the full episode above, or subscribe using your favorite podcast app. If you want more information about Werner’s reporting, you can:

Thanks to Joel and the ABC for letting us feature this documentary.

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What’s The Point’s music was composed by Hrishikesh Hirway, host of the “Song Exploder” podcast. Download our theme music.

Jody Avirgan hosts and produces podcasts for FiveThirtyEight.

Joel Werner is an independent radio reporter and producer.