The British Medical Association will 'vigorously' defend itself to the attorney general, who has been asked to investigate whether it was in contempt of court for releasing a briefing document about GP Harold Shipman before he was found guilty of 15 murders.

The BMA was forced to apologise 'wholeheartedly' for issuing information intended for a 'small number of individuals' to a wider group before the verdict was returned.

The document included details of Dr Shipman's previous convictions, which had been kept from the jury.

The BMA said it would submit that 'despite the admitted errors, the association was acting. . . in the best interests of its members and for the good of patients.'