Nurse who killed seven babies may have harmed dozens more, police fear

Lucy Letby, the nurse convicted of murdering seven babies and attempting to murder six others at the Countess of Chester Hospital, may have harmed dozens more infants at two hospitals in the north-west of England, according to a source with knowledge of the police investigation.

A ‘persistent, calculated and cold-blooded’ killer

Letby, 33, was found guilty on Friday after a 10-month trial at Manchester Crown Court. She was accused of killing and harming babies in her care by injecting air into their blood and stomachs, overfeeding them with milk, physically assaulting them and poisoning them with insulin.

She denied all of the 22 charges against her but was convicted of seven counts of murder and seven counts of attempted murder, involving six babies. She was acquitted on two counts of attempted murder while jurors were unable to reach verdicts on six further attempted murder charges.

The jury heard that Letby’s intention was to kill the babies while duping her colleagues into believing there was a natural cause of death. She also sent disturbing text messages to her friends and co-workers after murdering or harming the infants, feigning heartbreak and innocence. One of her notes read: “I am evil I did this.”

Letby is facing a whole-life sentence on Monday, which would make her the fourth British woman in history to be jailed with no chance of parole. She is also being constantly watched by prison officers to ensure she does not harm herself or escape.

Nurse who killed seven babies may have harmed dozens more, police fear

A wider investigation into suspicious incidents

The police investigation, dubbed Operation Hummingbird, began in 2016 after a spike in deaths and near-fatal collapses of premature babies in the neonatal unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital. The inquiry involved more than 4,000 medical records and nearly 70 detectives and civilian staff.

The source told the Guardian that detectives had identified about 30 babies who suffered “suspicious” incidents at the Chester hospital when Letby was on duty. These 30 babies, who all survived, are in addition to the 17 infants who featured in the nurse’s trial. The source said these cases were part of “phase one” of the ongoing investigation.

Police are also examining the records of babies born at Liverpool Women’s Hospital where Letby also worked in 2012 and 2016. At least one family was told earlier this year by police that the birth of their child is part of the inquiry.

Det Supt Paul Hughes, who led the Letby inquiry, confirmed that there were “active investigations” into the collapses of “a number” of babies and that their families were being supported by specially trained officers.

A betrayal of trust and a failure of oversight

Letby’s crimes have shocked and devastated the families of her victims, who described their ordeal as “eight years of torture”. They also criticised the hospital bosses for ignoring the warnings of paediatricians on the unit where Letby worked. Some doctors had raised concerns about Letby as early as 2015 but were told to apologise to her formally in writing by hospital executives.

The government has ordered an independent inquiry into Letby’s murders, which will examine whether there were any systemic failures or negligence by the hospital management or regulators. The inquiry will be led by Dr Bill Kirkup, who previously investigated the deaths of mothers and babies at Morecambe Bay NHS Trust.

The Countess of Chester Hospital has apologised for its shortcomings and said it had made significant improvements since 2016. It also said it was cooperating fully with the police investigation and the independent inquiry.

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