A NICU nurse in the U.K. has been accused of killing seven infants and attempting to kill ten more by injecting air into the newborns and poisoning them with insulin, according to prosecutors, in a case that has shocked and horrified the nation. Officials believe she took her first victim in 2015 when two newborns died suddenly on her watch. After a thorough investigation two years later, the police came to suspect a “poisoner” was at work.
Lucy Letby, 32, a neonatal ICU nurse at the Countess of Chester Hospital in northwest England, is charged with murder in the deaths of five baby boys and two girls as well as the attempted murder of five boys and five girls. In one instance, Letby tried several times to kill one child.
She appeared in court on Monday and pleaded not guilty to all charges.
On the first day of the trial, lead prosecutor Nick Johnson described Letby as a “constant malevolent presence” at the hospital. He told the jury that the facility saw a significant increase in deaths and “catastrophic collapses” in the neonatal ICU from 2015 to 2016.
“Babies who had not been unstable at all suddenly deteriorated. Sometimes babies who had been sick but then been on the mend suddenly deteriorated for no apparent reason,” Johnson said.
The first child Letby is accused of murdering, referred to as Child A for privacy reasons, died in June 2015 one day after he was born. The premature baby suffered from low oxygen levels, but the doctors noticed an “odd discoloration” on the child’s skin. The autopsy couldn’t identify the cause of death.
An expert who examined the results determined the child most likely died of air injected into the bloodstream “by someone who knew it would cause significant harm,” the prosecutor said.
Child A’s twin sister, Child B, suffered from the same complications as her brother. She died some 28 hours after Child A. When the staff resuscitated her, the child survived, but the fact that Letby was on duty in both cases proves that “these were no mere accidents,” Johnson told the court.
On the second day of the trial, Johnson said Letby murdered a baby in the same room where she had just killed another infant.
She told a colleague it would be “cathartic” to go back into the room, Johnson said, and that “in other words [it] would help her well-being to see a living baby in the space previously occupied by a dead baby.”
As the boy collapsed “for what proved to be the final time,” Letby allegedly told a colleague minutes before he died, “He’s going.” After several hours of resuscitation attempts, Child C died early in the morning in June 2015.
The medical expert concluded that the child died because his breathing was compromised. “The only feasible mechanism” for the air in his body was someone deliberately injecting it through his nose tube.
Johnson also told the court that Letby appeared to search for Child C’s parents on Facebook and that it appeared to be “one of the first things she did when waking up” after finishing her night shift at about 8 AM. When investigators asked her why she looked up the child’s parents online, she failed to offer an explanation.
Johnson said Letby also murdered a two-day-old infant girl, Child D, by injecting air into the blood vessels. Experts said this would have caused the child “extreme distress and terror.”
“Tragically for Child D, her bad luck — or fate — was the fact that Lucy Letby was working in the neonatal unit that night.”
In the case of Child E, Johnson said his mother found her son “acutely distressed and bleeding from his mouth.” Letby blamed a nasogastric tube for the bleeding.
She told a mother, “Trust me, I’m a nurse” while she was killing her son, the court heard. Johnson said the nurse “fobbed off” the mother who had disturbed the nurse as she “attacked” the baby.
The mother returned several moments later to find her son in “terminal decline.”
Again, prosecutors told the jury that Letby took an “unusual interest” in Child E’s family. She searched for his parents on social media two days after his death and on another six occasions, including Christmas Day.
That was when, prosecutors said, Letby started poisoning infants with insulin. She tried to poison Child E’s twin brother, Child F. The baby had been prescribed a nutrition bag of fluid and examinations of his insulin levels later found “conclusive evidence” someone had injected insulin into the drip bag before it was given to the child.
Johnson explained officials at the hospital first assumed the deaths were due to natural causes, but a follow-up investigation suggested foul play. The facility contacted the police in 2017 and experts were called in to review the evidence, which suggested that the children were poisoned with insulin by someone inside the neonatal unit.
Child F as well as Child L survived after their blood sugar levels suddenly crashed, Johnson explained.
Records show Letby’s work schedule consistently matched up with all of the infant deaths. In every case, Letby was on duty when “things took a turn for the worse for these 17 children,” he told the court.
When she worked the night shift, the number of neonatal deaths increased. When she was moved to the dayshift, deaths increased again.
Police detained Letby for questioning three times during the investigation. She was formally charged in November 2020.
“As the trial begins, we are fully supportive and respectful of the judicial processes and as such will not be making any further comments at this stage. Our thoughts continue to be with all the families involved,” Susan Gilby, chief executive of the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the facility, wrote in an email to reporters.