A hospital nurse has gone on trial accused of murdering seven babies and attempting to murder another 10.
Lucy Letby is alleged to have gone on a year-long killing spree while working at the Countess of Chester Hospital. The 32-year-old denies murdering five boys and two girls and attempting to murder another five boys and five girls between June 2015 and June 2016.
Who is Lucy Letby?
She is a nurse who was working in the neonatal unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital in Chester at the time of the allegations.
Letby was born in 1990 and originates from Hereford, in Herefordshire. She studied for her nursing degree at the University of Chester.
She worked throughout the period in consideration at the neo-natal unit and prior to her arrest was living at an address in Chester.
What charges is Lucy Letby facing?
Letby is accused of murdering five boys and two girls. It is also alleged she attempted to murder another five boys and five girls. The children cannot be named for legal reasons. The allegations are said to have taken place between June 2015 and June 2016 while she was working at the Countess of Chester Hospital.
Letby, of Arran Avenue, Hereford denies all the allegations. The defendant, wearing a blue jacket over a black shirt, earlier pleaded not guilty to seven counts of murder and 15 counts of attempted murder at Manchester Crown Court.
Family members of some of her alleged child victims sat in the public gallery listening as the names of the children were read out during her not guilty pleas. On the other side of the public gallery sat the defendant’s parents, John, 76, and Susan, 62.
What is the prosecution’s case against Lucy Letby?
Opening the prosecution case on Monday at Manchester Crown Court, Nick Johnson KC said the Countess of Chester was a “busy general hospital” which included a neonatal unit that cared for premature and sick babies.
He told the jury: “It is a hospital like so many others in the UK, but unlike many other hospitals in the UK ... within the neonatal unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital a poisoner was at work.”
‘Significant rise in number of babies who were dying,’ court told
Mr Johnson said that prior to January 2015, the mortality rate of babies in the neonatal unit was comparable to other hospitals. However over the next 18 months, there was a “significant rise in the number of babies who were dying and in the number of serious catastrophic collapses”.
The prosecutor told the court: “These rises were noticed by the consultants working at the Countess of Chester and they searched for a cause. Their concern was that babies who were dying had deteriorated unexpectedly. Not only that when babies seriously collapsed they did not respond to appropriate and timely resuscitation.
“Some of the babies who did not die collapsed dramatically but then – equally dramatically – recovered. Their collapse and recovery defied the normal experience of treating doctors. Babies who had not been unstable at all suddenly deteriorated. Sometimes babies who had been sick but then been on the mend suddenly deteriorated for no apparent reason.”
Mr Johnson told the court: “Having searched for a cause, which they were unable to find, the consultants noticed that the inexplicable collapses and deaths did have one common denominator. The presence of one of the neonatal nurses and that nurse was Lucy Letby.”
‘Deaths and collapses occurred on Letby’s shifts,’ jury heard
He told jurors at Manchester Crown Court that at the relevant time the number of nursing staff at the Countess of Chester’s neonatal unit was between 25 and 30 nurses, along with about 15 nursery nurses. Mr Johnson explained the many of cases initially occurred on night shifts, however when Letby moved on to day shifts, the collapses and deaths did as well.
Mr Johnson said as medics could not account for the collapses and deaths, police were called in and conducted a “painstaking review”.
He said: “That review suggests that in the period between mid-2015 and the middle of 2016, somebody in the neonatal unit poisoned two children with insulin. The prosecution say that the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the evidence you will hear is that somebody poisoned these babies deliberately with insulin. This was no accident.
“If we are right about that, the fact that there were two deliberate poisonings will help you when you are assessing whether the collapses and deaths of other children on the neonatal unit were because someone was sabotaging them or whether these were just a tragic coincidence.”
The collapses and deaths of all the 17 children concerned were not “naturally occurring tragedies”, Mr Johnson said. He told the jury: “They were all the work, we say, of the woman in the dock, who we say was the constant malevolent presence when things took a turn for the worse for these 17 children.”
‘Letby tried to kill the same baby more than once,’ prosecution alleges
Mr Johnson said sometimes babies were injected with air and on other occasions they were fed with insulin or too much milk.
He told the court: “So varying means by which these babies were attacked but the constant presence when they were fatally attacked or collapsed catastrophically was Lucy Letby.”
He added: “We allege that sometimes Lucy Letby tried to kill the same baby more than once. Sometimes a baby that she succeeded in killing she did not manage to kill the first time she tried, or even the second time, and in one case even the third time.”
Mr Johnson said the two children allegedly poisoned with insulin, who cannot be identified, were two baby boys, both born twins; the first born in summer 2015 and the other born in spring 2016. Both were allegedly poisoned a couple of days after they were born.
“Lucy Letby was on duty when both were poisoned and we allege she was the poisoner,” Mr Johnson said. “There’s a very restricted number of people who could have been the poisoner, because entry to a neonatal unit is closely restricted.”
The trial continues. After the prosecution’s case, Letby’s barristers will make her defence.