New Yorker Story Questions Guilt Of Nurse Convicted Of Killing 7 Babies

British authorities may have ignored evidence in a rush to convict a neonatal nurse of killing seven babies, according to a sweeping investigation published Monday in The New Yorker.

Lucy Letby, 34, was found guilty in those killings and in attempts to kill six other babies while she worked at a hospital in northwest England in 2015 and 2016, The Associated Press reported. The trial lasted 10 months, and the jury deliberated for 22 days before reaching a verdict. She was sentenced to life in prison.

Court artist Elizabeth Cook draws outside Manchester Crown Court before a verdict is read on Aug. 11, 2023, in the case of nurse Lucy Letby, who was found guilty of killing seven babies.
Court artist Elizabeth Cook draws outside Manchester Crown Court before a verdict is read on Aug. 11, 2023, in the case of nurse Lucy Letby, who was found guilty of killing seven babies.

Peter Powell – PA Images via Getty Images

In the New Yorker story, “A British Nurse Was Found Guilty of Killing Seven Babies. Did She Do It?” reporter Rachel Aviv notes that the vilification of Letby by the British tabloids and the trial judge is a stark contrast to how she was perceived by her many close friends and colleagues.

“Letby appeared to have been a psychologically healthy and happy person,” The New Yorker article said, adding that a detective called her apparent lack of motive “completely unprecedented.”

It’s possible, The New Yorker story suggested, that the deaths of a cluster of babies in the Countess of Chester Hospital while Letby was working were “never … crimes at all.”

Letby was devastated and couldn’t help blaming herself when three babies died suddenly in June 2015, when she was working, according to text messages her friends shared with The New Yorker.

At the time, the head of Letby’s neonatal unit, Dr. Stephen Brearey, told Aviv that “nobody had any concerns about” Letby’s practice.

Brearey had said in an interview with the Chester Standard that the neonatal unit’s cramped space could increase the risk of infection among the babies. The New Yorker reported that plumbing problems in the hospital were causing sewage to back up in sinks and toilets.

The Countess was plagued by underfunding and shortages in staff and vital medicines and medical equipment, and a number of senior staff members expressed their concern. In 2015 — the year the first babies died during Letby’s shift — the infant mortality rate in England and Wales rose for the first in more than a century, according to The New Yorker article.

That year, eight babies died in the Countess’s neonatal unit — a notable jump from two deaths in 2013 and three in 2014 ― but the hospital was also treating more babies, with more complex conditions, The New Yorker reported. A mother of triplets, two of whom died at Countess, complained that she had seen a doctor Googling instructions on how to perform a simple medical procedure.

The cause of death for each baby under Letby’s care was different, a unit manager noted after an informal review after the initial cluster death, Aviv reported.

In meetings among doctors and the hospital’s executive board, Letby was found to be the common element in the cluster of neonatal deaths, according to the Standard. Letby was removed from her clinical duties, and in late 2016, she filed a grievance against the hospital.

The hospital found in her favor, but Brearey, along with Ravi Jayaram, the head of the pediatrics ward, later grew suspicious of Letby and expressed their concerns to the hospital’s management and, eventually, the police, The Guardian reported.

During the investigation, the BBC reported, police found a handwritten note at Letby’s house with phrases across the page that they believed were incriminating, including “I killed them on purpose because I’m not good enough to care for them” and “I AM EVIL I DID THIS,” the BBC reported.

At her trial, Letby explained to the jury that she was expressing her self-doubts and writing about what other people made her feel, according to People magazine.

But a staffing chart presented to the jury might have played the greatest role in Letby’s conviction, The New Yorker said. It noted that the only commonality among 24 “suspicious incidents” in the neonatal unit was that Letby was on staff.

However, the diagram’s premise was flawed, a statistics professor pointed out — similar incidents had happened outside of Letby’s presence. And Letby’s defense team argued that some of the incidents deemed “suspicious” had been cherry-picked.

In the end, it wasn’t enough to dissuade a jury from finding Letby guilty.

In December 2023, Letby also lost her nursing credentials and her name was removed from the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s register, The Guardian reported.

She is currently waiting to hear whether a court will allow her to appeal her conviction. She is facing another trial next month on an attempted murder charge that the previous jury could not reach a verdict on.

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