Lucy Letby, a former neonatal nurse who killed seven babies and attempted to kill six others while working at a hospital in northern England, has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of release by a judge who highlighted “the cruelty and calculation” of her actions.
Letby, 33, was convicted by a jury at Manchester Crown Court on Friday after a 10-month trial that revealed her as a “malevolent presence” in the neonatal unit of the Countess of Chester Hospital. She harmed babies in ways that were difficult to detect, and she persuaded colleagues that their collapses and deaths were normal, prosecutors said.
The victims died or suffered serious injuries between June 2015 and June 2016, when Letby was on duty in all of the cases. Some of the babies had “serious catastrophic collapses” but survived after help from medical staff.
‘The most prolific child killer in modern UK history’
Justice James Goss imposed the most severe sentence possible under British law on Letby on Monday, saying that she deserved a “whole-life order” for her “sadistic conduct” and premeditated crimes. He said that the number of killings and attempts and the nature of the murders by a neonatal nurse entrusted with care for the most fragile babies provided the “exceptional circumstances” required to impose such a sentence.
“There was a malevolence bordering on sadism in your action,” Goss said. “During the course of this trial you have coldly denied any responsibility for your wrongdoing. You have no remorse. There are no mitigating factors.”
He called Letby “the most prolific child killer in modern UK history” and said that she had caused “incalculable” harm to the families of her victims.
‘You thought it was your right to play God with our children’s lives’
Letby did not attend the hearing, which is allowed in British courts during sentencing. That has fueled anger from the families of the victims, who wanted her to listen to statements read out in court by the parents of her victims about the devastation caused by her crimes.
“You thought it was your right to play God with our children’s lives,” the mother of twins, one of whom was murdered and the other whom Letby tried to kill, said in a statement to the court.
“I don’t think we will ever get over the fact that our daughter was tortured till she had no fight left in her and everything she went through over her short life was deliberately done by someone who was supposed to protect her and help her come home where she belonged,” the mother of a girl identified as Child I said in another statement.
Politicians and victim advocates have called for changes in the law to force criminals to appear for sentencing after several high-profile convicts chose not to face their victims in recent months.
A rise in deaths and collapses at the hospital
During Letby’s trial, prosecutors said that in 2015 the hospital started to see a significant rise in the number of babies who were dying or suffering sudden declines in their health for no apparent reason. The hospital reported 10 deaths and six collapses among babies between March 2015 and July 2016, compared with three deaths and nine collapses between January 2013 and February 2015.
Senior doctors said over the weekend that they had raised concerns about Letby as early as October 2015 and that children might have been saved if managers had taken their concerns seriously. Dr. Stephen Brearey, head consultant at the hospital’s neonatal unit, told The Guardian newspaper that deaths could arguably have been avoided as early as February 2016 if executives had “responded appropriately” to an urgent meeting request from concerned doctors.
Letby was arrested in July 2018 after a police investigation into the deaths at the hospital. She denied any involvement in the killings or attempts and claimed that she loved her job and cared for the babies.
A shocking and harrowing case
The case has shocked and saddened many people in Britain and around the world, who have expressed sympathy for the families of the victims and outrage at Letby’s actions.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who called the crimes “shocking and harrowing,” said his government would bring forward in “due course” its plan to require convicts to attend their sentencings.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he was “deeply saddened” by the case and praised the police and prosecutors for their work. He also said he would commission an independent review into what happened at the hospital and what lessons could be learned.
The Countess of Chester Hospital apologized to the families of the victims and said it had made significant improvements to its neonatal services since 2016.