Nurse Lucy Letby, who was on Friday convicted of murdering seven babies and attempting to kill six others, was today sentenced to 14 whole life sentences, one for each offence. The sentences mean that she will spend the rest of her life in prison without possibility of parole.
At the conclusion of the 10-month trial, the judge, Mr Justice Goss, described her crimes as "truly horrific" and said she showed "premeditation, calculation, and cunning". In his sentencing remarks, he took care to address what happened with each baby in turn, describing the 33-year-old's actions as "a cruel, calculated, and cynical campaign of child murder involving the smallest and most vulnerable of children".
Letby's Refusal to Appear for Sentencing Dubbed "Cowardly"
Ms Letby refused to appear in the dock at Manchester Crown Court for sentencing, an action described by the mother of two of the babies as "one final act of wickedness". Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said this morning: "I think it's cowardly that people who commit such horrendous crimes do not face their victims." He confirmed that the Government intends to legislate to compel those convicted to appear to hear the families' victim impact statements first hand.
Steve Brine, chair of the all-party Health and Social Care Select Committee, said the case was "a tragedy for all concerned" and described the sentence as "not enough".
The "murder spree" at the neonatal unit of the Countess of Chester Hospital took place between June 2015 and June 2016 and involved some twins and one set of triplets. Inevitably, the case has drawn comparisons with that of nurse Beverley Allitt, given 13 life sentences after being convicted of killing four children, attempting to kill three more, and grievous bodily harm against six others at Grantham and Kesteven General Hospital in 1991.
"Deep Malevolence Bordering on Sadism"
Mr Justice Goss today addressed Ms Letby in her absence, saying that the majority of her victims "suffered in great pain"; she commited the offences knowing they would cause suffering and with "deep malevolence bordering on sadism". Imposing the whole life sentences, he explained that they were "offences of exceptional seriousness" for which she had shown "no remorse", and for which there were "no mitigating factors".
On occasion she had "cruelly and callously" made inappropriate remarks to some of the grieving parents, and had repeatedly searched for them on Facebook. Police searches of her and her parents' homes had revealed confidential documents taken from the hospital, and the Judge said he was satisfied that she had kept them as "morbid records" of what she had done.
An independent inquiry into the killings has been announced and the hospital's former chief executive Tony Chambers and former medical director Ian Harvey, who were in charge at the time of the killings, have said they will co-operate fully. Dr Nigel Scawn, current medical director, said last week that the whole Trust was "deeply saddened and appalled" by the killings and "extremely sorry that these crimes were committed at our hospital". He said that "significant changes" had been made since, and reassured future patients that they could "have confidence in the care that they will receive".
"Gross Dereliction of Duty" Claim
However the prosecution's lead medical expert, retired consultant paediatrician Dr Dewi Evans, told the BBC he believed the case called for an investigation into the hospital's senior executives, "for what in my opinion is gross dereliction of duty".
Last night NHS England said that Alison Kelly, director of nursing and quality at the Countess of Chester Hospital Foundation Trust during Ms Letby's employment, had been suspended from her current post at the Rochdale Care Organisation.
The trial had heard that the concerns of paediatric consultants on the neonatal unit had been raised with Ms Kelly and with now retired orthopaedic surgeon Mr Harvey from October 2015 onwards, but had repeatedly been resisted or ignored.
A Care Quality Commission inspection in early 2016 had rated children's and maternity services at the hospital as "good".
Meanwhile, The Guardian newspaper reported on Sunday that experts had been asked by Cheshire Constabulary to examine medical records of more than 4000 babies born at Liverpool women's hospital and the Countess of Chester between 2012 and 2015. The 17 babies who featured in the trial that concluded today were in "phase one" of an ongoing inquiry called Operation Hummingbird, the paper reported.
"Nobody Listened and Nothing Happened"
After the verdicts last week, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Rob Behrens, who described the case as "one of the darkest crimes ever committed in our health service", said that evidence from clinicians that they repeatedly raised concerns and called for action was heard throughout the trial. "It seems that nobody listened and nothing happened. More babies were harmed and more babies were killed."
"Significant improvements to culture and leadership across the NHS" were needed, he said. "Good leadership always listens, especially when it's about patient safety. Poor leadership makes it difficult for people to raise concerns when things go wrong, even though complaints are vital for patient safety and to stop mistakes being repeated."
Mr Brine said after sentencing today that it had been a "nightmare of a trial" but that "justice has been done" with the sentences, though it was "an absolute disgrace" that Ms Letby "wasn't there to face up to what she's done". He supported the Government's efforts to bring forward provisions to compel criminals to appear for sentencing.
The ramifications of the case for the health service would be "long-lasting", he added, including enhanced protections for NHS whistleblowers. He recommended a judge-led inquiry, meaning that witnesses could be compelled to appear. "The public need to be reassured and have confidence in the system, and the inquiry is absolutely critical in that."