Police discovered ‘a poisoner was at work’ on a NHS neonatal unit after a ‘significant rise’ in the number of healthy babies dying while a nurse accused of murdering seven babies and trying to kill ten more was working, a court heard today.
Lucy Letby was described as a ‘constant malevolent presence’ at the Countess of Chester Hospital in Cheshire who allegedly killed and injured many premature children – including twins – on night shifts because parents were less likely to be there.
Opening the prosecution, Nick Johnson KC, said two babies – referred to as Child F and Child L for legal reasons – were ‘poisoned’ by Letby ‘deliberately with insulin’. They were attacked eight months apart with each of them from separate sets of twins.
He said: ‘Babies who had not been unstable at all suddenly severely deteriorated. Sometimes babies who had been sick and then on the mend deteriorated for no apparent reason. Having searched for a cause, which they were unable to find, the consultants found the inexplicable collapses and deaths did have one common denominator. The presence of one of the neonatal nurses. That nurse was Lucy Letby.’
During the time Letby worked on the night shift, there was a rise in babies dying or falling seriously ill, Manchester Crown Court was told, and then when she moved to the day shift there were more ‘inexplicable collapses and deaths’.
Letby, 32, allegedly tried to kill one baby girl three times and a baby boy three times – including two attempts in one day.
Mr Johnson said Letby, 32, as a ‘constant malevolent present’ at the ‘closely restricted’ Chester neonatal unit, which saw a ‘significant rise’ in the number of babies dying, and serious or catastrophic collapses while she was working there, it is alleged.
He added: ‘It is a hospital like so many others in the UK but unlike many other hospitals in the UK, and unlike many other neo-natal units in the UK, within the neo-natal unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital a poisoner was at work.’
Children’s nurse Lucy Letby (pictured) has gone on trial today accused of seven baby murders
This morning she was brought into the dock at Manchester Crown Court, wearing a dark blue suit with a black blouse. She is facing 22 charges concerning 17 babies, some of whom she allegedly attempted to murder multiple times. She pleaded not guilty to each charge.
Judge warns jury to be ‘dispassionate’ in ‘case bound to provoke an instinctive reaction of horror’
The trial judge, Mr Justice Goss, told the empanelled jurors that all the charges relate to babies.
‘Any anxiety or apprehension you may have about your role as jurors in this case. You will have apprehensions about what is to follow, but in relation to the nature of the case and your role’.
Other juries up and down the country were trying very serious cases, so they should not to be anxious. They would soon become familiar with the details of the case.
The judge added: ‘The case is bound to provoke an instinctive reaction of horror. It is part of our characteristics as a human being.
‘Whilst retaining your knowledge and understanding of human behaviour, you must put your emotions to one side and consider the evidence calmly, rationally, fairly and dispassionately’.
Mr Johnson said: ‘Prior to January 2015, the statistics for the mortality of babies in the neo-natal unit at the Countess of Chester were comparable to other like units.
‘However over the next 18 months or so there was a significant rise in the number of babies who were dying and in the number of serious catastrophic collapses.
‘These rises were noticed by the consultants working at the Countess of Chester and they searched for a cause.’
They were concerned that babies who were dying had deteriorated unexpectedly, despite appropriate medical interventions that would normally have saved them.
He said the collapses ‘defied the normal experience of the treating doctors’.
Family members of some of her alleged child victims sat in the public gallery listening as the names of the children, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were read out.
Three members of security staff surrounded her as stood up to enter her pleas as her parents John and Susan watched on. Her trial, which is due to begin this afternoon, will last up to six months.
Letby, 32, quietly repeated the words ‘Not guilty’ as each of the charges was read out to her by a clerk at Manchester Crown Court.
She was standing stock still in the glass-panelled dock of Court 7, her once blonde hair, now darkened, let down over her shoulders.
Fourteen jurors were sworn in to hear the trial. However, two of them will act as substitutes while the prosecution opening is being heard. Once that point has been reached the trial will continue with 12 jurors.
According to the indictment she tried to kill one baby girl three times and another twice. And she tried to claim the life of a baby boy on three separate occasions – two of them on the same day.
In addition to the seven murder charges, Letby faces a further 15 charges of attempted murder relating to 10 premature babies being cared for in the hospital’s neonatal unit.
John and Susan Letby, parents of Lucy Letby, are at Manchester Crown Court for their daughter’s murder trial (pictured last week)
All of the alleged murders and attempted murders took place in a 12-month period between June 2015 and June 2016.
Letby’s parents, John, 76, and Susan, 62, watched as proceedings were relayed to annexe courtrooms attended by families of the children involved and members of the press and broadcast media.
A court order prohibits the media from reporting the identities of either the surviving infants or those who died.
A court order prohibits reporting of the identities of surviving and deceased children allegedly attacked by Letby, and prohibits identifying the parents or witnesses connected with the children.
The children will be referred to as Baby or Child A to Q.