‘Lawful enforcement’ may be used to compel Lucy Letby to attend sentencing as victims’ families call for change in law

21 August 2023, 06:08

The government is facing calls to force criminals to attend their punishment hearings.
The government is facing calls to force criminals to attend their punishment hearings. Picture: Alamy/Cheshire Police

By Jenny Medlicott

Lucy Letby can be forced to appear in court on Monday when her sentence is handed down, the government has said.

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If forced to attend, Letby would be made to hear the judge’s sentence as well as the victim impact statements from the families of her victims.

It comes after it emerged that the killer nurse vowed not to attend her sentencing on Monday after the marathon 10-month trial at Manchester Crown Court.

Letby, 33, was found guilty on Friday of murdering seven babies and attempting to murder six others - making her one of the most prolific child killers in modern British history.

Since the guilty verdicts were announced, the nurse has faced mounting calls to appear in court to hear her punishment.

A government source said on Sunday: “Lucy Letby should be in court to hear society’s condemnation of the enormity of her crimes, expressed by the judge.”

“If that requires the use of lawful enforcement, so be it. If she continues to refuse, that will only strengthen our resolve to change the law as soon as we can,” they told the Telegraph.

The father of twin boys, who Letby tried to murder, said the killer nurse’s alleged refusal to appear in court was a “slap in the face”.

Read more: Lucy Letby 'may have harmed dozens more babies' as killer nurse is set to miss sentencing in final snub to families

Read more: Former minister calls for Lucy Letby's sentencing to be broadcast to serial killer's cell so she has 'nowhere to hide'

Lucy Letby was found guilty of murdering seven babies on Friday.
Lucy Letby was found guilty of murdering seven babies on Friday. Picture: Alamy

He said: “What gives her the right to refuse to come up from the cells or to tell the judge that she doesn't intend to listen to his sentence? The law must change. The judge should be given the power to summon her into the dock to face myself, my wife and all the other victims who desperately want her to hear our victim impact statements.”

“It is a total injustice and slap in the face for us all. The British justice system needs to change, to ensure that, in the future, all victims' voices are heard by those that perpetrate such horrendous crimes,” he told the Mail.

The judge in the trial, Mr Justice Goss KC, said of Letby’s plans not to attend: “The sentencing hearing will take place whether she is present or not. The court has no power to force her to attend – therefore there is nothing I can do about it.”

The government has faced increasing calls to force criminals to attend their own sentence hearings after Thomas Cashman, the murderer of Olivia Pratt-Korbel, refused to enter the dock when he was jailed for 42 years earlier this year.

Former justice secretary Robert Buckland said he thinks there should be nowhere to hide for the nurse who was found guilty of murdering seven babies on Friday at Manchester Crown Court.

The former minister said: “My suggestion would be to make sure that there was a live link beamed into the cell of the sound and/or send pictures to ensure that Letby has nowhere to hide and in fact has to listen to what the judge is saying about the case.”

Letby did not attend court to hear the verdict of the final charges against her on Friday after the serial killer had already been found guilty of several counts of murder.

Read more: Hospital bosses ‘in denial’ as calls grow for full public inquiry into Letby killings

Read more: ‘I was afraid to leave my baby with her’: Mother says despite 'gut instinct' she did not complain about Lucy Letby

Lucy Letby plans to refuse to attend her sentencing.
Lucy Letby plans to refuse to attend her sentencing. . Picture: Getty

The government is expected to change legislation in the King’s Speech in the autumn to compel criminals to attend their sentence hearings or increase their sentence if they refuse to attend.

Steve Brine, the chairman of the Commons health select committee, said on Sunday: “Lucy Letby 100 per cent should be present to face the music, and Parliament should legislate to make sure that defendants do so.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he would change the law if he wins the next election, adding: “It’s crucial for victims and their families that perpetrators are present in court. I saw its impact as Director of Public Prosecutions.

“While nothing can ever fully heal families’ pain, it brings an element of closure and gives others confidence that, if they come forward, the system will deliver justice for them. That criminals can avoid court is a shameful gap in the process, and one my Labour government will close.”

The morning of August 17 was Letby’s last appearance in the courtroom as she went on to tell her legal team that she did not wish to attend any more of the proceedings.

She was offered the opportunity of following her sentencing hearing via prison videolink but said she was not prepared to do that, the court heard.

Cheshire Police say they are continuing to review the care of some 4,000 babies who were admitted to the Countess of Chester - and also at Liverpool Women's Hospital when Letby had two work placements - during her employment from 2012.

Only those cases highlighted as concerning medically would be investigated further, police added.

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