Nurse given whole life order for murdering seven babies following ‘highly complex’ investigation by Cheshire Constabulary

A neonatal nurse has been given a whole life sentence after being found guilty of the murder and attempted murder of new-born babies following a “highly complex and extremely sensitive” investigation by Cheshire Constabulary.

Aug 22, 2023
By Paul Jacques
Lucy Letby

Lucy Letby, from Hereford, was found guilty on Friday of murdering seven newborn babies, and attempting to kill six more, on a neonatal unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital where she worked.

It makes the 33-year-old the UK’s most prolific child serial killer in modern times.

She was sentenced at Manchester Crown Court on Monday (August 21) to life imprisonment with no chance of parole.

During the hearing Mr Justice Goss KC said Letby had waged a “cruel, calculated and cynical campaign of child murder involving the smallest and most vulnerable of children”.

He said she showed no remorse and there are no mitigating factors as he confirmed that she will spend the rest of her life in prison.

Letby, who qualified in September 2011 after graduating from university, used a variety of methods to target the victims – injecting the babies with air and poisoning them with insulin as well as over feeding them with milk.

Pascale Jones of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: “Lucy Letby sought to deceive her colleagues and pass off the harm she caused as nothing more than a worsening of each baby’s existing vulnerability.

“In her hands, innocuous substances such as air, milk, fluids – or medication like insulin – would become lethal. She perverted her learning and weaponised her craft to inflict harm, grief and death.

“Time and again, she harmed babies, in an environment which should have been safe for them and their families.

“Her attacks were a complete betrayal of the trust placed in her.

“My thoughts are with families of the victims who may never have closure, but who now have answers to questions which had troubled them for years.”

Following the hearing, Cheshire Constabulary’s deputy senior investigating officer, Detective Chief Inspector Nicola Evans, said: “Today, Lucy Letby has been handed a whole life order.

“The sentence reflects the true scale and gravity of her horrific crimes and ensures that a calculated and dangerous individual is behind bars for a very long time.

“Nothing will bring back the babies who died or take away the pain and suffering experienced by all of the families over the years but I hope that the significant sentence will bring some comfort at this dark time.

“The victim impact statements read out in court today on behalf of the parents are a chilling reminder of the pain and suffering that each family has had to endure over the years.

“Hearing their own experiences in their own words has been truly heartbreaking.”

Cheshire Constabulary said it had been an investigation “like no other – in scope, complexity and magnitude”.

The investigation, called Operation Hummingbird, gathered 32,000 pages of evidence and medical records running into thousands of pages were sifted through.

Senior investigating officer, Detective Superintendent Paul Hughes, said: “This has been a highly complex and extremely sensitive investigation over the past six years. We had to go right back to the start, keeping an open mind and being careful not to draw any conclusions. The last thing we expected to find was a suspect responsible for these deaths and non-fatal collapses.

“It was a long, drawn-out process but no stone was left unturned. We had to do it right – not rush it.

“This has been an investigation like no other – in scope, complexity and magnitude. We had to deal with this as 17 separate investigations – we are normally used to dealing with one murder or attempted murder investigation at a time let alone something on this scale.

“What started out as a team of eight quickly increased and, at the height of the investigation, featured almost 70 officers and civilian staff working together – in a bid to unearth the answers that the families so desperately deserved.

“Turning up at the home of a family who have lost a baby, grieved for their loss and are trying to move on from that is difficult enough. But having to tell them that someone who was meant to be caring for their little one could ultimately be responsible for their death – is not an easy task.

“I want to say thank you to the whole investigation team in recognition of all of their dedication and hard work – without you we wouldn’t be in this position today.”

In court, the prosecution had claimed that Letby was a competent nurse who knew exactly what she was doing when she deliberately harmed the babies in her care.

The defence argued that there was no evidence to suggest Letby had inflicted harm on any baby citing ‘sub-optimal care’ by the hospital, issues with poor hygiene and a campaign of conspiracy against the defendant by a number of senior doctors as reasons for the deaths and non-fatal collapses.

After ten months and 110 hours of deliberating the jury dismissed Letby’s version of events and agreed that she was responsible.

It is believed to be the longest murder trial in the UK.

Cheshire Constabulary launched Operation Hummingbird after it was contacted by the Countess of Chester Hospital Foundation Trust in early May 2017 regarding neonatal services at the hospital. This was in relation to a greater number of baby deaths and non-fatal collapses than normally expected during the period of June 2015 and June 2016.

The term ‘non-fatal collapse’ relates to a medical collapse when the patient’s breathing and/or heart rate suddenly deteriorates to the point where they are at risk of dying unless doctors or other health professionals take action.

The investigation initially focused on the deaths of eight babies between June 2015 and June 2016 where medical practitioners at the hospital had expressed concern.

In addition, the investigation also conducted a review of a further seven baby deaths and six non-fatal collapses during the same period.

As time went on and further information came to light the scope of the investigation widened and further cases were reviewed.

“Over the past six years the investigation team has been building a strong case for court – and this has been a huge task,” said Cheshire Constabulary.

Around 2,000 people were spoken to in order to gather as much information as possible – this has included staff at the Countess of Chester Hospital who worked with Letby. Almost 250 were identified as witnesses by the prosecution to potentially give evidence during the trial – although not all were needed in the end.

Strategic lead for the investigation, Detective Superintendent Simon Blackwell, said: “As the case unfolded, we had to enlist the help of multiple medical experts to ensure that we carried out as thorough an investigation as possible. There was a lot of complicated, medical evidence that needed examining. We are experienced detectives, not medical professionals, so we needed specialist advice and support. This was a mammoth task as one medical record alone was 8,000-pages.

“All of the medical experts were key to our case and we will forever be grateful for their assistance and the time and effort that they have given to supporting the investigation.

“Our case has also been strongly supported by a number of key partners over the years to which we are also very grateful including the CPS, Prosecution Counsel, the National Crime Agency and colleagues from other forces.”

As work continued behind the scenes to gather evidence, a suspect was formally identified and on July 3, 2018 Letby was arrested at her home in Chester. She was taken into custody and interviewed by detectives and was subsequently bailed pending further inquiries.

This was followed by two further arrests – one in June 2019 and another in November 2020 – in total she was arrested three times in the space of just over two years.

During those arrests around 30 hours of video interviews were captured as Letby was asked to give her recollection of each event.

Inquiries continued during this time and on November 10, 2020, Letby was rearrested in Hereford.

One day later, she was charged with eight counts of murder and ten of attempted murder between June 2015 and June 2016.

Letby pleaded not guilty to all charges at a hearing at Manchester Crown Court in October 2021.

In June 2022, Letby had one not guilty verdict recorded for one of the murder charges. It meant that when she went on trial last year, she faced seven murder charges and ten attempted murder charges.

Cheshire Constabulary said the trial has been a “lengthy and complex experience” for all involved – with months of evidence for the jury to sit through.

During the trial each baby case has been discussed in detail starting with emotional statements from each of the parents followed by a sequence of events, expertly prepared by two of Cheshire Constabulary’s intelligence analysts. This set the scene and focused on the story of each baby from their birth to their journey through the neonatal unit.

The sequence captured what happened and when in terms of staff movements on the ward, where each baby was on the unit at the time, how they were monitored and the treatment they received.

It also captured conversations during this time between Letby and other staff members via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger – this spanned hundreds of messages – and Facebook searches that Letby carried out on parents of the babies – sometimes months after they had been on the unit.

“At the end of each sequence of events the relevant prosecution witnesses were called – these were mainly staff at the Countess of Chester who were working with Letby at the time each baby was on the ward,” said Cheshire Constabulary.

“They were followed by medical experts specialising in areas of paediatric radiology, paediatric pathology, haematology, paediatric neurology and paediatric endocrinology with two main medical experts (consultant paediatricians) giving their opinions on each baby case and the probable cause of their death or collapse.”

Summing up the feeling after verdict, Det Supt Hughes, said: “When we first launched our investigation in May 2017, we recognised that it would have a significant impact on everyone involved given the subject matter – including the families of the babies, staff and patients at the hospital and the wider public.

“We have had to navigate that over a number of years and ensure that everyone involved has been kept fully updated and has received the relevant advice and support to help them through the process.

“We always said that we were committed to carrying out our investigation as quickly as possible – however, in order to ensure that no stone was left unturned this ended up being a detailed and painstaking process.

“I want to thank each and every person who has been involved in this investigation – from our dedicated officers and staff who built a detailed case that resulted in a charge and ended up at court, to the many witnesses and medical experts who were integral in giving their evidence at court, to the prosecution team who tirelessly devoted their time to a trial that has spanned many months and finally to the jury who had to sit through a huge amount of complex and, at times, very distressing and upsetting evidence before delivering their verdict.

“Everyone has had a part to play and we owe a debt of gratitude to you all.”

Det Chief Insp Evans added: “The details of this case are truly crushing. A trained nurse responsible for caring and protecting tiny, premature babies; a person who was in a position of trust, she abused that trust in the most unthinkable way.

“I cannot begin to understand what the families have had to endure over the past seven or eight years but we have been humbled by their composure and resilience throughout this whole process.”

Following Friday’s verdict, Det Chief Insp Evans, said: “Today is not a time for celebration. There are no winners in this case.

“Our focus right now is very much on the families of the babies. The compassion and strength shown by the parents – and wider family members – has been overwhelming.

“Today is all about them – and we must not lose sight of that. I cannot begin to imagine how the families in this case feel today. We will all take some time to reflect on today’s verdict both the guilty and the not guilty verdicts.

“I would like to say thank you to the families for putting their trust in us and I hope that this process has provided them with some of the answers they have been waiting for. We will continue to work closely with each of the families in the days and weeks ahead in order to ensure they have the support they all require in light of everything they have experienced.

“My thoughts – and those of the whole prosecution team – remain with them at this incredibly difficult time.”

Jonathan Storer, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS Mersey-Cheshire, added: “This is an utterly horrifying case. Like everyone who followed the trial, I have been appalled by Letby’s callous crimes.

“To the families of the victims – I hope your unimaginable suffering is eased in some way by the verdicts. Our thoughts remain with you.

“Our prosecution team and police investigators have my respect and gratitude. These convictions could not have happened without their dedication to securing justice.”

Following the verdict, Janet Moore, family liaison coordinator with Cheshire Constabulary, read out a statement on behalf of all the families in this case.

It said: “Words cannot effectively explain how we are feeling at this moment in time. We are quite simply stunned.

“To lose a baby is a heart-breaking experience that no parent should ever have to go through. But to lose a baby or to have a baby harmed in these particular circumstances is unimaginable.

“Over the past seven/eight years we have had to go through a long, torturous and emotional journey.

“From losing our precious new-borns and grieving their loss, seeing our children who survived – some of whom are still suffering today, to being told years later that their death or collapse might be suspicious. Nothing can prepare you for that news.

“Today, justice has been served and a nurse who should have been caring for our babies has been found guilty of harming them. But this justice will not take away the extreme hurt, anger and distress that we have all had to experience.  Some families did not receive the verdict that they expected and therefore it is a bittersweet result.

“We are heartbroken, devastated, angry and feel numb. We may never truly know why this happened.

“Words cannot express our gratitude to the jury who have had to sit through 145 days of gruelling evidence, which has led to today’s verdict – we recognise that this has not been an easy task for them and we will forever be grateful for their patience and resilience throughout this incredibly difficult process.

“The police investigation began in 2017 and we have been supported from the very beginning by a team of experienced and dedicated family liaison officers (FLOs). We want to thank these officers for everything they have done for us.

“Medical experts, consultants, doctors and nursing staff have all given evidence at court, which at times has been extremely harrowing and distressing for us to listen to.

“However, we recognise the determination and commitment that each witness has shown in ensuring that the truth was told. We acknowledge that the evidence given by each of them has been key in securing today’s verdict.

“Finally we would like to acknowledge and thank the investigation team and, more recently, the prosecution team who have led the trial to a successful conclusion. The search for the truth has remained at the forefront of everyone’s minds and we will forever be grateful for this.

“We would now ask for time in peace to process what has happened as we come to terms with today’s verdict.”

Ms Moore also read out a statement on behalf of the FLOs who worked as part of Operation Hummingbird, which said: “On behalf of our team of dedicated FLOs, I would like to thank all of the families for the immense fortitude and extreme resilience that they have shown over the years.

“They have acted with dignity and reservedness during a very long trial, whilst hearing the most horrendous evidence. We are all extremely humbled by them.

“I hope that the support that we have provided to all of the families has been of some comfort to them during an incredibly difficult journey.

“We have worked closely alongside His Majesty’s Court Service to ensure that the families have been able to watch court proceedings in Manchester as well as remotely over the past ten months. This has assisted them greatly in being able to view the trial with more ease. We would like to thank court staff for all of their help with this.

“Whilst today’s verdict can by no means relieve the suffering that families have gone through and are still going through, we hope that it will bring them some comfort.

“Our thoughts remain with you all.

Timeline of events

May 2017

The Countess of Chester Hospital Foundation Trust contacted Cheshire Constabulary regarding neonatal services at the hospital. This was in relation to a greater number of baby deaths and non-fatal collapses than normally expected during the period of June 2015 and June 2016.

The hospital also made the constabulary aware of a number of independent reviews that they had commissioned into these deaths.

As a result of this information, the force launched an investigation.

July 3, 2018

Lucy Letby, who worked as a nurse within the neonatal unit at the hospital, was arrested at her home in Chester in connection with the ongoing investigation. She was arrested on suspicion of murder in relation to eight babies who died and attempted murder in relation to six babies.

She was subsequently bailed pending further inquiries.

June 10, 2019

Letby was re-arrested at the home of her parents in Hereford on suspicion of the same offences (murder in relation to eight babies who died and attempted murder in relation to six babies). She was also arrested in connection with the attempted murder of three additional babies.

She was bailed again pending further inquiries.

November 10, 2020

Letby was re-arrested at the home of her parents in Hereford on suspicion of murder in relation to the deaths of eight babies and the attempted murder of nine babies.

On November 11, 2020 Letby was charged with eight counts of murder and ten counts of attempted murder. The charges relate to the period of June 2015 to June 2016.

October 2021

The 31-year-old pleaded not guilty to all the charges and was set to face a trial from October 4, 2022 at Manchester Crown Court.

June 2022

During a further case management hearing, CPS offered no evidence in relation to one of the murder charges. This means that Letby was charged with seven counts of murder and ten counts of attempted murder. It relates to a baby where Letby was charged with both murder and attempted murder against this same child. In this case, the attempted murder charge remained.

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