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Disclaimer: This article is written by Eliza Ali. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the team editor nor any entities they represent.
After abusing her position as a neonatal nurse working at the Countess of Chester hospital, Lucy Letby was finally incarcerated for a life sentence at HMP Low Newton in Durham for the murder of seven infants and attempting to murder six others. The trial lasted for more than 10 months and is deemed to be the longest murder trial in the UK.
She is only the fourth woman in British history to be charged with a life sentence.
Despite taking the advantage of her position to kill the most innocent members of society through her trusted position as a nurse, the motives are yet to be discovered underpinning Letby’s crimes.
Throughout her career she was regarded as a trusted and dedicated nurse. Having qualified as a nurse at the University of Chester in 2003, she completed specialist training in March 2014 where she was designated to work in what was called nursery one – where the most ill children were cared for. She would text her colleagues, when working in the lower risk nurseries, that she was bored and wanted to work in nursery one -which the prosecution later said was a trigger for Letby’s attacks. While the details of her life may seem ordinary, the Crown Prosecution System alleged there was a ‘much darker side to her personality’. This, coupled with the Cheshire Police’s assertion that ‘the fact she was non-descript and average in work allowed her to go under the radar and commit these offences,’ culminates in how her trusted position as a nurse was one which posed a shield to her true character.
She had worked at the Countess of Chester hospital for more than 3 years when the mortality rate of the neonatal ward began to exponentially grow in 2015. The first attack took place on 8 June 2015 when the child victim died less than 90 minutes into Letby’s overnight shift.
Letby began her killing spree in 2015, however since then she has faced a total of 22 charges relating to those deaths in addition to the attempted murders of 10 more infants. She was eventually convicted of 14 of those 22 claimed accounts. The 11 person jury was undecided on the attempted murder of a further four babies.
Despite pleading not guilty to all charges, the prosecution presented handwritten notes by Letby herself where she described herself as a ‘horrible evil person’ and how she ‘killed them on purpose.’ Although, other notes advocated her innocence such as ‘I haven’t done anything wrong and they have no evidence so why do I have to hide away?’
Prosecutor Nick Johnson’s closing argument consisted of the fundamental evidence that Letby used lethal air injections on at least 12 of her victims. Therefore, Letby’s claim that she ‘only ever did my best to care for them’, coupled with the alternative cause being plumbing issues in the hospital with ‘raw sewage coming out of the sinks [and] coming out on the floor in nursery one’, meant her defence was brutally crushed.
The seven deaths were caused by the provision of excess milk, air, insulin or fluid, endangering the child’s life. Some of the children survived multiple attacks before dying. One child in particular survived three alleged attacks, with her parents testifying Letby intentionally wanted to cause ‘irreversible brain damage’ and quadriplegia cerebral palsy.
Former coworkers also testified against Letby. On October 24, 2022, one colleague rightfully identified that one child’s health began to diminish rapidly under Letby’s care. Her twin brother had already died at the hands of Letby, thus when the baby girl became sick, there is little surprise why the colleague’s default response was ‘not again.’ This is due to the fact that there was an unusually high number of unexplained deaths in the unit ever since Letby stepped foot into nursery one.
Further evidence arose in the trial when Letby’s supervisor testified that Letby spent an abnormal period of time with a premature baby she wasn’t assigned with. This child also unexpectedly declined in health and died in the serial killer’s hands as Letby went into the family room a few times despite her supervisor requesting her to leave the baby in the care of the assigned nurse.
Another tragedy consisted of an infant who weighed less than 3 pounds – his mother testified that she found her son in a state of distress, yet Letby once again dismissed her concerns.
The evidence of the prosecution pointed single handedly in the direction of Lucy Letby, and with that the jury were assured that they were in the vicinity of a serial killer who abused her position of privilege to harm the most vulnerable members of society.
Reporting restrictions ensured the identity of the 17 babies who formed part of the charges were confidential. Consequently, the names of the nine doctors and nurses who worked alongside Leby in the neonatal unit were also kept hidden from public knowledge. Two years before the trial was initiated, Mrs Justice Steyn made an order banning the publication of anything that could expose the identity of an individual who had not turned 18 years of age. The order also prevented the publications of identification which targeted the parents as witnesses in the proceedings.
In normal circumstances, the judge would have no control over information released about children who have died. However, the nurse of Steyn’s order could prevent publication of passed away children’s personas due to the sibling groups and the feature of their parents providing evidence. The parents involved all chose to retain their family’s anonymity. Although, some even went as far as to request the details of their occupation, ethnicities, nationalities and medical conditions. Instead of disclosing the first name of the babies, something which Steyn’s order did permit, each baby was allocated with a letter from A to Q to protect their identities, all of which were named chronologically.
Letby will spend the rest of her life behind bars for the murder of five baby boys and two baby girls at the neonatal unit of Countess of Chester hospital over 13 months via the injection of insulin, air or force fed milk. Some of those affected were twins, in one instance she murdered both siblings, in another she killed two of three triplets, and in two instances she murdered one twin but failed to kill the other.
As Judge James Goss declared, ‘This was a cruel, calculated and cynical campaign of child murder involving the smallest and most vulnerable of children,’ as he sentenced her to life imprisonment. She now joins the likes of fellow serial killers Myra Hindley and Rosemary West, who have also been granted whole life orders. Her guilt can be proven by refusing to leave her cell to hear the length of her sentence, leading to demands that that criminal must be forced to hear the impact of their actions on those affected. One mother believed it to be Letby’s ‘final act of wickedness.’