Lucy Letby inquiry given powers to compel NHS bosses to face questioning over baby murders

30 August 2023, 18:26 | Updated: 30 August 2023, 18:30

The Government have made the Letby inquiry statutory - allowing a judge to order NHS bosses to appear
The Government have made the Letby inquiry statutory - allowing a judge to order NHS bosses to appear. Picture: Cheshire Police/Alamy

By Chay Quinn

The Government has made the inquiry into baby killer Lucy Letby's crimes statutory - allowing a judge to order NHS bosses to appear.

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The government announced an inquiry into her heartless killing spree on the afternoon she was found guilty, but had planned for it to be independent and for attendance to be voluntary.

Announcing the change, Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:  “The crimes committed by Lucy Letby are truly harrowing, and my thoughts remain with the families of her victims.

“Following her conviction, we announced an inquiry and said the nature of this inquiry would be shaped by the families.

"Having now discussed this with the families, we will launch a full statutory inquiry giving it the legal powers to compel witnesses to give evidence."

He concluded: “This statutory public inquiry will aim to give the families the answers they need and ensure lessons are learned.”

Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Steve Barclay announced the change today
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Steve Barclay announced the change today. Picture: Getty

Letby, Britain's worst baby killer of modern times, will die in prison after being given a whole life order for her crimes on Monday.

She was found guilty of murdering seven babies and attempting to kill six more earlier this month, after a ten-month trial.

She committed her crimes while working as a nurse in the neonatal ward of the Countess of Chester hospital, between June 2015 and 2016.

It emerged after her conviction that some bosses at the hospital had deflected concerns that senior doctors raised about Letby after several babies died in quick succession. The woman in charge of nursing at the hospital has been suspended from her current position, the NHS said on Monday.

But there are fears some managers at the hospital will avoid public scrutiny by not taking part in the inquiry. Several Conservative MPs and former Cabinet ministers have backed calls to make the inquiry statutory - meaning witnesses are legally obliged to take part.

Read more: Nursing boss accused of failing to act while Lucy Letby murdered babies suspended

Read more: Inside the maximum security prison where killer nurse Lucy Letby will spend the rest of her life

Lucy Letby, pictured here in a police mugshot, will spend the rest of her life behind bars
Lucy Letby, pictured here in a police mugshot, will spend the rest of her life behind bars. Picture: Cheshire Police

The government said that it was considering a statutory inquiry.

A source told the Telegraph: "Obviously it would require primary legislation, but we’re looking at all the options."

Rishi Sunak said earlier: "I think the important thing for the inquiry to do is make sure that families get the answers that they need, that it is possible for us to learn the lessons from what happened, everything conducted transparently, and to happen as quickly as possible.

"Those are the objectives that we want for the inquiry, and we’ll make sure that it’s set up to deliver on those aims."

Lucy Letby is led from her home in handcuffs after being arrested
Lucy Letby is led from her home in handcuffs after being arrested. Picture: Cheshire Police

Claire Coutinho, the children's minister, said there were benefits to making the inquiry statutory and non-statutory.

"Well, whenever something like this happens, there’s always a debate about whether it should be statutory or non-statutory," he said. "And there are different benefits to both.

"With a statutory inquiry, it means you can compel people to give evidence. With a non-statutory inquiry, it is often much quicker.

"I think speed is of the essence to make sure that expectant parents across the country can feel assured that they know that there are steps in place to make sure that this won’t happen again."

Labour MP on public inquiry into Lucy Letby

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, a former top lawyer himself as the Director of Public Prosecutions, said that the inquiry should be statutory, "one because that’s what the victims’ families want, and after what they’ve been through, I think that is a really important consideration.

"Secondly, what a statutory inquiry gives you is the power to order documents, to order witnesses to come forward. So we get the fullest, proper, comprehensive analysis of what went wrong here. I don’t think that needs to hold things up. We could get on with that very quickly."

Letby is the most prolific child serial killer in modern British history.

Whole-life orders are the most severe punishment available in the country's criminal justice system and are reserved for those who commit the most heinous crimes.

Letby joins Myra Hindley, Rose West and knife killer Joanna Dennehy among the only female killers to be given whole life prison terms.

Sentencing Letby on Monday, Mr Justice Goss said her motive for killing the children will never be known.

He described the killings as "a cruel, calculated and cynical campaign of child murder."

"You have no remorse. There are no mitigating factors... You will spend the rest of your life in prison," said the judge.

Some of the children she tried to kill have been left permanently disabled. One parent described the murder of her son as ‘like something from a horror story.’

"The lives of newborn babies were ended almost as soon as they began and life-long harm has been done," the judge said.

"Loving parents have been robbed of their children, and others have to live with the consequences... siblings have to live without their brothers and sisters.

Letby killed seven babies and attempted to murder six others
Letby killed seven babies and attempted to murder six others. Picture: Facebook

"The reasons for your actions are known only to you."He said she acted in a way that was "completely contrary" to normal human instincts of caring for babies.

He said Letby ended the lives of babies "as soon as they began" and robbed "loving parents of their cherished children."

He said Letby committed a "gross breach" of the trust that all citizens place in those who work in the medical and caring professions.

"The babies you harmed were born prematurely and some were at risk of not surviving but in each case you deliberately harmed them, intending to kill them," he said.

Mr Justice Goss told Manchester Crown Court: "There was premeditation, calculation and cunning in your actions."

Letby did not appear in the dock for her sentencing.
Letby did not appear in the dock for her sentencing. Picture: Alamy

After sentencing, Senior Crown Prosecutor Pascale Jones, of CPS Mersey Cheshire said: "My thoughts remain with the families of the victims who have demonstrated enormous strength in the face of extraordinary suffering. I hope that the trial has brought answers which had long eluded them."

Baby murderer Lucy Letby to spend rest of her life in jail for ‘evil’ crimes

“Today’s sentence means Letby will never again be able to inflict the suffering she did while working as a neonatal nurse. She has rightly been brought to justice by the courts.

Earlier, the families of Letby's victims addressed an empty dock as they told her "you are nothing" and "you are evil". More than a dozen relatives of Letby's victims sat in the public gallery for the hearing on Monday and eight jurors returned to see the sentencing.

The mother of Child E, a premature-born boy who died, and Child F, his twin brother who survived, told the court the nurse's refusal to appear was "just one final act of wickedness from a coward".

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