A neonatal nurse has been found guilty of murdering new-born babies that she should have been caring for.
Lucy Letby, of Arran Avenue in Hereford, has been found guilty on Friday of seven counts of murder, in some cases reported to involve families from North Wales.
The 33-year-old has also been found guilty of seven counts of attempted murder.
She has been remanded into custody and is due to be sentenced at Manchester Crown Court on Monday 21 August.
Following the verdict, Deputy Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Chief Inspector Nicola 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.”
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.
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 10 months and 110 hours of deliberating the jury dismissed Letby’s version of events and agreed that she was responsible.
DCI 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.”
In early 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.
As a result, Cheshire Constabulary launched an investigation called Operation Hummingbird. This 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.
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.”
Over the past six years the investigation team has been building a strong case for court – and this has been a huge task. 32,000 pages of evidence were gathered and medical records running into thousands of pages were sifted through.
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 Crown Prosecution Service, 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 3 July 2018 Letby was arrested at her home in Chester. She was taken into custody and interviewed by detectives and was subsequently bailed pending further enquiries.
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.
Enquiries continued during this time and on 10 November 2020 Letby was rearrested in Hereford.
One day later, she was charged with eight counts of murder and 10 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 10 attempted murder charges.
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.
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.”
The government has ordered in independent inquiry following Friday’s verdicts against Lucy Letby.
It will look into the "circumstances behind the murders and attempted murders of babies at Countess of Chester Hospital to help ensure families get the answers they need".