Lucy Letby – serial baby killer or wrongfully convicted nurse?

A fascinating and gob-smacking interview of Dr Scott McLachlan by Norman Fenton that raises much doubt about Lucy Letby’s guilt is part of a report that takes the lid off the most sensational multiple death case in the UK. NIALL McCRAE writes in 

After her conviction for killing seven babies and attempted murder of ten others, nurse Lucy Letby, 33, is expected to spend the rest of her life in prison. The media whipped up such a public frenzy, that she would be safer inside. But as some legal commentators argue, her trial was a farce. Is Letby the fall girl for a corrupt system, in which doctors made serious errors and found a convenient scapegoat?

The crimes were committed from June 2015 to June 2016, at the neonatal unit at Countess of Chester Hospital. The impression given is that an exceptional number of babies died during this period, but there were contributory factors unrelated to nursing care, and the peak of infant mortality at the unit occurred in 2019, long after Letby had gone.

Lucy Letby

Almost everyone who knows of Letby’s case has only heard the official story of a prolific serial killer punished for unconscionable evil. But in an interview with Norman Fenton (statistician at Queen Mary University of London), Scott McLachan doubted that any justice was served.  A lecturer in applied health technology at King’s College London, MvLachan has both nursing and legal qualifications. He has meticulously studied the evidence presented in court, revealing misleading use of data and omission of crucial information.

Of critical import to the guilty verdict was a chart showing which nurses were on duty at the time of baby collapses and deaths. It looks damning: in every case, Letby was there. But this was horridly misleading: other casualties occurred when Letby was off duty, but these were not considered in court. Data from a freedom of information request to the hospital showed that 31 infants died in the 12-month period of Letby’s adjudged crimes, yet 23 of these were excluded from the trial (of the eight deaths for which Letby was believed culpable, one case was dropped). In other words, Letby was implicated by circular logic: deaths happened when she was on the unit, so she must have caused them.

McLachlan & Fenton

According to McLachan various other factors could have caused an elevation in mortality. The neonatal unit had been upgraded, enabling it to provide for premature babies who previously would have gone to a specialist unit. There was a problem with the plumbing: sewage pipes leaked, risking contamination of the water supply. McLachan suggested that bacterial infection could have been the cause of air in the bloodstream and organs of babies, rather than injection by Letby (which nobody witnessed).

The role and responsibility of doctors was strangely marginalised in the proceedings. Why weren’t they crosstabulated by infant injury? Dr Gibbs, the unit consultant, had one foot in the door of retirement at the time of the incidents, and clinical decision were increasingly taken by the registrar and junior doctors. As McLachan described, inexperienced trainees were performing skilled procedures such as umbilical venous catherisation, which should be supervised on the first three or more occasions. Sometimes a junior doctor made multiple unsuccessful insertions, raising the risk of infection.

Letby was reported to police by consultants, after a critical report about the unit by the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health, despite no concerns being raised by Letby’s nursing colleagues at the time. Perhaps she was a convenient target, after disagreeing with a doctor’s decision? In my mental health nursing experience many years ago, I was the subject of a witch hunt after a patient alleged that a nurse had doubted the drug regime prescribed by a consultant psychiatrist. I had merely informed the patient that antidepressants don’t work for everyone (an evidence-based statement), but that was enough to incur the wrath of the medical gods.

NHS management always blames nurses if something goes wrong. Doctors exert power without responsibility, while nurses are given responsibility without power. In the 1990s I was manager of an innovative mental health crisis service. Months were spent working on the operational policy, partly to ensure that the service (which had six beds) was used for genuine crises and not as an annex to the psychiatric ward. When I objected to consultant psychiatrists transferring patients from the acute wards as overspill, senior management sided with the doctors rather than the manager running the service to the operational policy!

Instrumental to Letby’s conviction was Dr Dewi Evans, a retired paediatrician, who approached the National Crime Agency to contribute to the investigation. McLachan suggests that Evans touted for business and oversold his credentials. He was not a current expert in neonatal care, but his assessment of the cause of deaths and injuries was prominent in the prosecution, and clearly influenced the jury.

Forensic analysis of the court case on the Science on Trial website infers that all of the seven babies died of natural causes. There may have been clinical negligence – by doctors and nurses (including Letby). Instead, one nurse was accused of the following malice: –

  • Injecting air into veins (cases A, B, D, E, M)
  • Insulin poisoning (F, L)
  • Force-fed milk (G)
  • Injecting air into the stomach (C, I, O, P, Q)
  • Attacking organs with a sharp implement (E, N, O)
  • Unspecified (possible tampering or smothering) (H, J, K)

Each of these allegations is undermined by the Science in Trial analysis. As well as the selective shift data, Letby was incriminated by her possession of handover sheets. Nurses and midwives often keep such records after their shift finishes, because sometimes they may need to refer to such information; for example, if an emergency arises on the next shift or next day. But these folded notes were suggested as a trophy for Letby’s dastardly deeds. Also, Letby had written in her reflective journal (a record of clinical experience kept by practitioners and used for three-yearly revalidation) that she felt somehow responsible for babies dying. Was this an admission of guilt, or simply showing humane concern?

Letby was fed to the wolves, with politicians, media pundits and NHS worshippers calling for drastic action to prevent anything like this recurring. Meanwhile, there is no outcry from the same pontificators about the persistent weekly excess of two hundred deaths in Britain, since the mass administration of Covid-19 vaccines. Earlier this year, when Andrew Bridgen was granted a debate in the House of Commons on the harm of these injections, almost every MP left the chamber.

Lucy Letby’s trial and imprisonment will not repair a broken public health service. Instead, it will put more power in the hands of those who abuse it: overpaid senior managers and doctors, and a medical industrial complex that offends the very concept of patient-centred care.

Dr Niall McCrae is an officer of the Workers of England Union and until recently a senior lecturer in mental health nursing at King’s College London.

He has written several books, including The Moon and Madness (2011), Echoes from the Corridors (with Peter Nolan, 2016) and Moralitis: a Cultural Virus (with Robert Oulds, 2020).

Norman Fenton is Professor Emeritus of Risk at Queen Mary University of London (retired as Full Professor Dec 2022) and a Director of Agena, a company that specialises in artificial intelligence and Bayesian probabilistic reasoning.

 Dr Scott McLachlan is Chief Executive at Central Coast Local Health District (NSW).

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15 Responses to Lucy Letby – serial baby killer or wrongfully convicted nurse?

  1. David Smith says:

    I listened to the Interview on Utube between Fenton and McLachlan – To me this Nurse is a Scape Goat for Senior Health Management at this Hospital – Unfortunately this is the Norm in Health Care Facilities – Deny Deny Deny Lie – This Nurse Lucy needs as much support as Possible – It will be difficult to over turn the decision as the Health Area will have to admit where they real problems are and take responsibility for these Deaths. That is not likely.

  2. Peter Gill says:

    Here’s another website which perhaps tries harder than the other websites to delve into the data about the Lucy Letby case:

  3. Brian Johnston says:

    “Letby was fed to the wolves”
    “Lucy Letby’s trial and imprisonment will not repair a broken public health service”

    Andrew, these two comments are not helpful and are not supported by evidence more
    emotional and sensational.

    “Letby was implicated by circular logic’ Where did this come from?

    Lets look at the case
    31 died in 12 month period
    23 were excluded – did not occur on Letby shift watch therefore does not suit the case
    8 were applied to Letby 1 was dropped
    Letby went to gaol for 7 deaths

    It looks like someone has done something.
    Letby is the Nominated suspect because that is the twisted logic of police who are very experienced, know what they are doing and can easily identify the culprit. Sarcasm.
    Next step is to build the case around her. They did.
    23 did not suit that narrative and were dropped.

    There it is. From the onset Letby goes to gaol.
    Same as Sue.
    Same as Lindy.
    Same as Woods. Who was stitched up.
    Same as a lot of other cases..
    Not Keogh

    I believe Bryant, Murdoch – no body, and Milat – non smoker were all framed.
    Tedeschi has a lot to answer to.
    One way to fix the system is to expose Tedeschi

    Instead of police maintaining an open mind and following the clues to the culprit they jump in with the Nominative approach.

    Bret Christian did a very good book on this subject, Presumed Guilty.
    It is a very good read. He pulls no punches and names corrupt cops.

  4. Peter Gill says:

    Sorry, this comment is overloaded with info.

    Quite a few scientists and others around the world are currently being vilified online for mentioning the possibility of Letby being innocent. The venom against them on Reddit and elsewhere is massive.

    Richard Gill on Letby:

    Stats professor and scientist Richard Gill is being vilified online for his stance on Letby. Here’s info about Gill’s background helping tonfree Lucia de Berk in the famous case of the Dutch nurse with many similarities to both Australia’s Folbigg case and the Letby case:

    Sarrita Adams, a nurse currently working at a Biotech in California, compiled this very long description mainly of the medical details of the Letby case. On Reddit and elsewhere, she’s currently being attacked with venom, the attacks being on Adams herself and not on any of the material she wrote:

    Peter Elston in UK has a blog about statistics etc – you can scroll down to see all his articles about Letby at:

    From one of his articles is this excerpt below from The Chester Standard’s report of the trial on Thursday, 9th Feb, 2023.

    “A REPORT from expert witness Dr Dewi Evans in an unrelated civil case was described as “worthless” by a senior judge, jurors in the trial of Lucy Letby have heard. Retired consultant paediatrician Dr Evans has been called by the prosecution to give his opinions as to why a number of babies suffered collapses at the Countess of Chester’s neo-natal unit. On Thursday, Manchester Crown Court was told Dr Evans was criticised over his involvement in an application for permission to appeal against a care order involving two children – in a case unconnected to Letby. Dr Evans supported the parents’ desire to have increased access to the children who were being cared for by their grandparents, the court heard. Refusing permission last December, Court of Appeal judge Lord Justice Jackson said Dr Evans’ report was “worthless” and “makes no effort to provide a balanced opinion”. He went on: “He either knows what his professional colleagues have concluded and disregards it or he has not taken steps to inform himself of their views. Either approach amounts to a breach of proper professional conduct. No attempt has been made to engage with the full range of medical information or the powerful contradictory indicators. Instead the report has the hallmarks of an exercise in ‘working out an explanation’ that exculpates the applicants. It ends with tendentious and partisan expressions of opinion that are outside Dr Evans’ professional competence and have no place in a reputable expert report. For all those reasons, no court would have accepted a report of this quality even if it had been produced at the time of the trial.”
    End quote

    John Sweeney, a famous UK journo who helped rectify the infamous Sally Clark wrongful conviction in UK, tried mentioning on 19 Aug the Letby case on his johnsweeneyroar Twitter feed. He was hounded down and more or less forced into silence.

    A Letby schoolfriend Dawn Howe was interviewed about her total support for Letby’s gentle, ultra-caring nature, a bit like the unwavering support of Folbigg’s schoolfriends through Folbigg’s ordeal. Family and friends of Letby seem to feel the same way as Howe.

    A podcast and various sources reveal that the person who originally drew attention to the large number of baby deaths on Letby’s shifts was Lucy Letby herself. Somewhat unusual for a serial killer to do that.

    Famous barrister Geoffrey Robertson has commented about justice issues in the Letby case.

    There’s a lot of hatred out there for anyone who questions the Letby verdict, like there used to be for Kathleen Folbigg. The Letby case has a lot of similarities to the Gordon Wood trial and the Folbigg trial. The Letby case might in the next few years be the much-needed case that creates reverberations that actually change the way justice is done in the western legal systems.

  5. Father Ted Whalensky says:

    Andrew – Some more work for the underfunded and understaffed – some say- under skilled (nobbled) English CCRC ? Almost like – here we go again ? The English Prosecutors found themselves a Maniac Manock ? Didn’t our own NT Paragons of Virtue find a Dingo bite “Expert” in Blighted Londinium ? Know I’m bloody cynical – Isn’t this just more proof – Persons with just a modicum of power – abuse that power – the Pleasure found in doing over the innocent – doing over the guilty just doesn’t give that inner glow – Have a cigarette after -The power and the glory – Stupidly refusing Appeals to the Obvious is another example – fun fun fun till death takes the gavel away from the Dopey Old Bastards !

    • Peter Gill says:

      Indeed. As well as his disastrous contribution to Lindy Chamberlain’s trial, forensic pathologist James Cameron’s testimony was discredited in at least one other case – the infamous Maxwell Confait murder case of 1972, in which Cameron’s incorrect testimony regarding time of death led to the wrongful conviction of three young men. The Maxwell Confait case had huge ramifications ultimately leading to a Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure. Ref Wikipedia.

      There’s a wonderful episode of the fictional Aussie TV show Crownies just over a decade ago in which the Prosecution at Sydney’s ODPP calls in various experts. Two experts give exactly opposite advice, so the prosecutor picks the one says what they want, but the TV audience has seen a few incidents which show that the unused expert is 100% right. With the wrong expert being the one in court, the jury naturally reaches the wrong decision. The defence aren’t told about the other expert, though I think they’re meant to be told.

      In real life, I think similar things happened with the evidence of esteemed expert Stephen Cordner being omitted at the original Folbigg trial, but being included in the latest Folbigg Inquiry which undoubtedly reached the correct conclusion. I think it’s happened in South Australia too.

      And at the Jeffrey Gilham trial in NSW, the evidence of blood scatter expert Shelley Robertson – was omitted from the trial. The jury’s guilty verdict for Gilham had to be corrected at Appeal, for various reasons mainly involving non-expert “expert evidence” by so-called experts who were not expert enough in the field in which they gave evidence.

      The prosecution deciding to use only the expert(s) who suit them is one of many problems of our adversarial system. It is one of the biggest issues in NSW.

      • Don Wakeling says:

        “The defence aren’t told about the other expert”. .. Keough’s case exactly. But, shame: the secreter was the present Chief Justice of South Australia. Worse: no administration calls him to account.

  6. Owen Allen says:

    I guess we will see a Criminal Case Review Commission in action in the UK.
    Or will we?

    • Peter Gill says:

      The Letby Appeal come first.

    • John S says:

      Unlike here in Australia, at least there is a CCRC in the UK. It would be interesting to see how appeal goes first, then perhaps CCRC (if need be). Interesting test case for their CCRC, and perhaps another supporting argument in favour of having our own.

      It’s also remarkable that here in Australia we brag about being endowed with the Westminster system from the UK, and yet we don’t see fit to further follow such fine examples of good governance in having our own CCRC. Are we still a country of the fair go?

  7. Julie says:

    Is Ms Letby’s multiple murder conviction appealable?
    Is it not a little unusual for the retired Dr Evans to volunteer himself for assessment rather than be formally called upon?
    Anyone on trial for the other 23 recorded infant deaths during the same period?

    • Peter Gill says:

      Yes, there will surely be an appeal.

      Nobody else is on trial for anything. The descriptions of the trial in most media outlets and on Wikipedia don’t mention the other 23. It feels to me as if the public thinks the other 23 didn’t exist. I’m not sure what the jury thought.

      It’s not unheard of for an expert to inject himself into a trial. For example in the Gordon Wood trial, the physics professor sort of did that. The police rang Sydney Uni’s physics department to ask about biomechanics, and the professor who ended up helping them specialised in plasma physics with a hobby of biomechanics. He did many things right but made quite a few invalid assumptions, which the jury didn’t seem to notice, with the appeals judges later noticing some of the wrong assumptions. That was one of many factors in a long and sorry tale.

      • andrew says:

        Yes, and I’m still puzzled as to why the good professor was allowed to elaborate on his theory that Gordon Wood was phyiscally able to throw a woman off the gap in a ‘spearthrow’, but offer no evidence (nor did the prosecution) that Wood actually did.

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