Josh Halliday North of England correspondent
Mon, 10 October 2022 at 6:09 pm
A nurse murdered seven babies and attempted to kill 10 others by poisoning them on a hospital neonatal unit where she was a “constant malevolent presence”, a court has heard.
Lucy Letby, 32, fatally injected newborns with insulin, air or milk during night shifts when she knew their parents would not be present, a jury was told.
One of the babies was just 24 hours old when Letby allegedly injected him with air, killing him just 90 minutes after she came on shift. The nurse tried to kill his twin sister the next day, it is alleged.
The court was told that Letby, who was trained to care for the most seriously ill babies, developed an “unusual interest” in the parents of some of her 17 alleged victims and in some cases tracked them on Facebook.
Jurors were told that she was the only “common denominator” that connected the deaths of seven infants and the “catastrophic” collapses of 10 others at the Countess of Chester hospital between June 2015 and June 2016. She allegedly tried to kill some babies more than once – in one case, three times – using various methods, the jury of eight women and four men was told.
Most of the 17 babies were premature and receiving treatment on the intensive care unit or high-dependency unit when they were attacked by Letby, Manchester crown court was told.
Nick Johnson KC, prosecuting, told the jury: “We say the collapses and deaths of the 17 children named on the indictment were not normally occurring tragedies. They were all the work, we say, of the woman in the dock who we say was a constant malevolent presence when things took a turn for the worse for these children.”
Letby, who has pleaded not guilty to seven charges of murder and 15 of attempted murder relating to 10 babies, sat in the glass-encased dock of the court as the prosecution outlined its case.
Family members of some of her alleged victims sat in the public gallery, metres to the right of the defendant. On the other side of the public gallery sat Letby’s parents, John, 76, and Susan, 62.
Johnson told jurors that the Countess of Chester’s neonatal unit was like any other in the country, treating premature or sick babies. But at this unit, he said, “a poisoner was at work”.
Sometimes the babies were injected with air down a tube into their circulation, and at others they were injected with insulin through a feeding bag, it is alleged.
On other occasions, the prosecution allege, babies were given too much milk or air down a tube into their stomachs. This would have had “catastrophic effects” on the newborns, Johnson said.
He added: “So, varying means by which these babies were attacked but the constant presence when they were fatally attacked, or collapsed catastrophically, was Lucy Letby.”
Johnson said there was a “significant rise” in the number of babies who died or suffered “serious catastrophic collapses” from June 2015, when Letby allegedly began killing or attempting to kill the infants.
Consultants noticed that babies who were dying had deteriorated unexpectedly and that when infants seriously collapsed they could not be resuscitated.
The police launched a review of the deaths and collapses after consultants noticed that the incidents had one “common denominator: the presence of one of the neonatal nurses and that nurse was Lucy Letby”.
The jury was shown a chart that suggested Letby was the only nurse on shift at each of the 22 murders or attempted murders.
Johnson said many of the deaths or sudden collapses of babies occurred during night shifts worked by Letby, when their parents would not be present. When Letby was moved on to day shifts, he said, “the collapses and deaths moved on to the day shift”.
Jurors heard that Letby poisoned two baby boys with insulin two days after they were born. Both newborns, who can only be named as Baby F and Baby L, were from separate sets of twins. They survived but their infant brothers were also poisoned. One of them, Baby E, died.
The poisonings of Baby F and Baby L were initially ascribed to a naturally occurring phenomenon, Johnson said, because “it simply did not occur to the doctors, or anyone else in that hospital, that someone in the neonatal unit would have injected them with insulin”.
He said: “Nobody would think that in the neonatal unit of a hospital someone was trying to kill babies.”
The trial continues.