UK nurse Lucy Letby handed whole-life sentence for killing newborns
By Megan Specia
Lucy Letby, a nurse who became the most prolific serial killer of children in modern British history, was sentenced on Monday to life in prison without parole, the culmination of a yearslong case that has horrified the country and raised questions over the management culture that allowed her to evade detection for so long.
Judge James Goss handed Letby a “whole life order,” meaning she will spend the rest of her life in prison, a sentence reserved for the country’s worst offenses. She is only the fourth woman to have ever received the sentence.
Goss told the courtroom that Letby, who was convicted last week of killing seven newborns and trying to kill six others, “acted completely contrary to the normal human instincts of nurturing and caring for babies” and that her actions caused a majority of her victims to suffer “acute pain.”
“There was premeditation, calculation and cunning in your actions,” the judge said, later describing “a deep malevolence bordering on sadism” in Letby’s crimes.
The murders and attempted killings took place between June 2015 and June 2016, when Letby was a nurse in the neonatal ward of the Countess of Chester Hospital in northwestern England, tasked with caring for premature and vulnerable babies. She refused to appear during her sentencing on Monday, but the court heard heart-wrenching testimony from the parents of babies who were killed.
The mother of a baby boy killed by Letby addressed the absent former nurse in court on Monday, saying, “There is no sentence that will ever compare to the excruciating agony that we have suffered as a consequence of your actions,” according to the BBC.
The mother described how she had a memory box of mementos of her son and had treasured the prints of his hand and foot. But she now felt conflicted over these, she said, because Letby had made the prints when her son was born.
A father of triplets, two of whom Letby was convicted of killing, said in a prerecorded video statement that “everyday life was difficult, just getting up and living was a struggle,” after the death of his children.
“Lucy Letby has destroyed our lives,” he said, adding, “even after the trial has ended, it will continue to haunt us and will always have an impact on our lives.”
The lawyer for the prosecution, Philip Astbury, read out a statement from the parents of twins who were attacked in June 2015. One survived while the other died, and Letby was convicted of their murder and attempted murder, respectively.
After the death of the child, a family member was always present with their surviving daughter, the parents said — but Letby had been waiting for the relatives to leave so she could “attack.”
“You thought it was your right to play God with our children’s lives,” the statement said. “You thought you could enter our lives and turn it upside down, but you will never win. We hope you live a very long life and spend every day suffering for what you’ve done.”
While some of the parents delivered their statements through lawyers, others spoke directly to the courtroom, through tears. One mother of two victims said that Letby’s absence from court showed the “disrespect” she had for the court and the families.
“We have attended court day in and day out, yet she decides she has had enough, and stays in her cell, just one final act of wickedness from a coward,” the mother said. The identities of the babies in the case and their families were protected throughout the trial.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, speaking on Monday morning, said that he had been shocked by the harrowing details of the case.
“I think it is cowardly that people that commit such horrendous crimes do not face their victims and hear firsthand the impact that their crimes have had on them and their families and loved ones,” he said, adding that the government was looking at changing the law to ensure convicted criminals attended their sentencings.
Over the course of the 10-month trial in Manchester Crown Court, which began in October, jurors heard that Letby had harmed babies by overfeeding them with milk, injecting them with air and insulin and inflicting “impact-type” trauma.
Letby, 33, maintained her innocence throughout the trial, where she faced 22 counts related to the killing and harming of babies. In addition to the murder convictions, Letby was found guilty of seven counts of attempted murder related to six newborns, meaning she tried to kill one of them twice, prosecutors said. The jury did not reach verdicts on six counts of attempted murder and Letby was found not guilty on two counts of attempted murder.
Medical records, text and social media messages, staffing schedules, handwritten notes and diaries were used to help convict Letby, prosecutors said.
The government has ordered an independent inquiry into how Letby managed to remain undetected for years after the British news media reported that hospital managers had ignored repeated warnings about her conduct.
A BBC investigation revealed that doctors working alongside Letby first raised concerns about her possible role in 2015 but felt their alarm was dismissed by managers who were overly concerned with protecting the hospital’s reputation. Even after she was removed from the neonatal ward in 2016, she continued to work at the hospital in a clerical role until 2018.
The Cheshire police are still investigating whether other babies who had contact with Letby have experienced unexpected health issues, and authorities are asking anyone with additional information to contact them. The attacks in the current case only relate to deaths within one year. Letby worked in the neonatal unit from 2011 to 2016.