Wokery and Government overreach are the great issues of the early 2020s. Lucy Letby isn’t of the same order. Nevertheless, this young woman, of previously blameless character, has been imprisoned for the rest of her life on circumstantial evidence. With rare exceptions, the media have relished turning her into a ghoul. They are ably assisted by the Cheshire Constabulary who, post-trial, drip-feed corroborative detail to add verisimilitude, as in Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘The Criminal Cried’. They tell the media that Letby kept an “encrypted diary”, with “L.O.” having some sinister meaning. In fact, Letby has a cursive script and it’s L.D. not ‘L.O.’, being nurses’ common shorthand for ‘Long Day’, or a 12-hour shift. They’ve auctioned the film rights for their investigation, with ITV placing the winning bid. I’d advise ITV to check carefully for spin.
No one who cares about justice should be comfortable with this case. To briefly re-cap: Ms, Letby worked at the Countess of Chester neonatal unit from 2012. From at least 2014 this was a Level II unit, meaning that it took very premature babies. From mid-2015 to mid-2016, 15 infants died, and a similar number had major collapses. This was far more than in the preceding and subsequent periods (figure 1). The consultants raised alarms, leading to internal investigations then a review by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), commissioned in mid-2016.
Concern about Ms. Letby arose early, and she was moved to a desk job in July 2016. In response she began a grievance procedure, claiming that doctors were persecuting her. At this stage their concern surely related to competence; no Royal College would touch an investigation that should properly be a police matter. Assertions that “Doctors suspected Letby from 2015” should be read in this light. Post-mortems, performed for six of the seven deaths for which Letby ultimately was convicted, recorded “natural causes”.
Initial findings were in Ms. Letby’s favour. Her grievance was upheld and the RCPCH report, released at the end of 2016, expressed concern about the unit’s staffing and safety, saying that it was unsuitable for Level II. By then it had been downgraded to Level I anyway, with the most premature and sickliest babies delivered or sent elsewhere. There’s no mention of Ms. Letby or any other staff member, but it is beyond credulity, given the consultants’ suspicions, that she wasn’t quietly discussed. Doubtless there were separate confidential communications. They can’t have been damning, for Countess of Chester management notoriously forced the consultants to apologise and indicated that Letby would resume clinical nursing. Unhappy with these outcomes, the consultants involved the police in the spring of 2017, igniting the powder trail.
A 10-year retired paediatrician and professional expert witness, Dr. Dewi (David) Evans was recruited by the police. By his account he reviewed 30-something deaths and collapses, distinguishing 15 (eight murders and seven attempted murders) for which Letby was charged. Unfortunately, we don’t have his workings, nor the exact reason why he excluded seven deaths, except that he told talkRADIO that “they died for the usual problems why small babies die: haemorrhage, infection, congenital problems”. Nor do we know why the judge threw out one murder charge.