It sent air into their blood or stomach. An English nurse was found guilty on Friday, August 18, of killing seven premature newborns in one year in the hospital where she worked and attempting to murder six others, after a long trial that horrified the British.
"Cold, calculating, cruel and tenacious" According to the prosecution, Lucy Letby, now 33, worked in the intensive care unit of the Countess of Chester Hospital in the city of the same name, in northwest England.
Between June 2015 and June 2016, seven premature babies died suddenly, for no obvious reason, sometimes within hours of each other. Ten other babies had come close to death, again for no obvious reason, but had been saved.
The young woman, who claimed to be innocent, will know her sentence at a later date. She was accused of injecting intravenous air into newborns, using their nasogastric tubes to send air, or an overdose of milk, into their stomachs. She allegedly added insulin to bags of food solution, dislodged the breathing tube of a very premature woman, overfed a small victim by tube. And sometimes, combined several assaults.
On Friday, the British government ordered an independent inquiry into "the circumstances behind the horrific murders and attempted murders of babies." This will help "ensure that families get the answers they need".
The 33-year-old, who said she was innocent, will be sentenced on Monday. She was not present in court on Friday.
She killed, then assisted desperate parents
At the time, she was 25 years old. She was the only medical staff still on duty during the brutal deterioration of the newborns, Judge James Goss said, before the 12 jurors began deliberating on July 10.
She was accused of repeatedly trying to kill some of them, and 22 charges were brought against her, seven for murder and 15 for attempted murder of ten babies.
The trial began on 10 October in Manchester. The babies were only identified by letters, from A to Q, to protect families. Parents testified, sometimes in tears.
The defense described Lucy Letby as a "dedicated" professional. "My job was my life," she insisted.
Prosecutor Nick Johnson painstakingly reconstructed his schedule and the similarities between the deaths. He explained that Lucy Letby attacked babies after their parents left, when the nurse in charge walked away, or at night when she was alone. She then sometimes joined in collective efforts to save newborns, or even assisted desperate parents.
Among the victims were twins and even triplets, two of whom died 24 hours apart after his return from vacation in June 2016. The third was spared after his parents begged him to be transferred to another hospital.
At the time, having killed without attracting attention, she had become "uncontrollable", the prosecutor said. "She thought she was God."
A very premature woman, attacked three times in September 2015, remains severely handicapped today.
"I don't deserve to live. I killed them on purpose because I'm not good enough to take care of them. I'm a horrible person," the nurse wrote on a post-it note found at her home in 2018. In other documents, however, she maintained her innocence.
His lawyer Ben Myers argued that the neonatal ward had in 2015-2016 "welcomed more babies than normal, with greater care needs", and had "failed" to meet them. He had denounced the lack of evidence against his client, claiming that incompetent doctors had blamed him.
In his closing argument, he had denounced a "presumption of guilt".
According to the prosecutor, Lucy Letby had also falsified some medical notes, to cover her tracks.
During the trial, a mother recounted how, returning to bring milk to one of her premature twins at 21 p.m. in August 2015, she heard him screaming and discovered he had blood around his mouth. She had been reassured by Lucy Letby who had advised her to go back to her room.
According to the prosecution, the nurse had just pushed medical equipment down the tiny baby's throat, and had also injected him with air. He died a few hours later, after losing a quarter of his blood.
Transferred in June 2016 to an administrative department, arrested for the first time in 2018, then in 2019, Lucy Letby was finally incarcerated in November 2020.
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