Lucy Letby trial: Serial killer nurse accused of trying to kill premature baby

Lucy Letby is on trial over the allegation she attempted to murder a baby girl (Cheshire Police/PA) (PA Media)
Lucy Letby is on trial over the allegation she attempted to murder a baby girl (Cheshire Police/PA) (PA Media)

Serial killer Lucy Letby was “caught virtually red-handed” by a doctor as she attempted to kill a prematurely-born baby at the hospital where the nurse was working, a jury has heard.

Letby, 34, allegedly attempted to murder the infant – known as Child K – in February 2016 while employed on the neonatal unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital in Chester.

Letby was convicted last year of seven counts of murder and seven charges of attempted murder against six different babies, all while she was employed at the hospital.

She is now standing trial at Manchester crown court over the alleged attempted murder of Child K. She had murdered five babies and attempted to kill three others at the time of the alleged attempt on Child K’s life.

Opening the case, prosecutor Nick Johnson KC told jurors they should know about Letby’s status as a serial killer because it is relevant in this trial.

“There was a very long trial about a year ago in which Lucy Letby was convicted of seven murders and seven attempted murders”, he said.

“Thirteen children and here we are dealing with a baby who is the 14th.

“All that happened while Lucy Letby was working as a neonatal nurse in the neonatal unit at the Countess of Chester hospital in Chester.”

He told the court: “We suggest it’s not the case that you should convict her in this case because of what she has done in other cases.

“What we are suggesting is it gives you significant evidence as to what her intention was at the time we allege she did something to (Child K).

“We are saying that her status as a multiple murderer and attempted murderer is important, it is a piece of the evidence you can take into account when you are considering whether we have made you sure she attempted to murder (Child K).”

The jury was warned on Tuesday by trial judge Mr Justice Goss that they should only consider the evidence presented in this trial, instructing them to “decide the case on the evidence placed before you and nothing else”.

Letby is sat in the dock in court as Mr Johnson opens the case against her.

Child K was born “extremely prematurely” in the early hours of February 17 2016 after medics decided it was too risky to move her mother to a specialist hospital while in labour.

The youngster was taken to nursery one – the unit’s intensive care room – while Letby was on duty caring for two babies in nursery two, the court heard.

At 3.30am, Child K’s designated nurse left the unit to see the youngster’s mother in the delivery suite, the court heard, and was “not gone long”.

Mr Johnson said that Letby was alone in nursery one when senior consultant Dr Ravi Jayaram walked in and witnessed the infant’s collapse.

He said: “The designated nurse had left (Child K) connected to a ventilator that was breathing for her, and (Child K) was connected to another machine that was checking her heart rate and saturations.

“If either the heart rate or the oxygen saturations in the blood fall below a pre-determined level then alarms will sound, and if there was an issue, those alarms would have sounded but they did not because somebody had disabled them.

“So when Dr Jayaram walked into the nursery, he saw Lucy Letby was standing over (Child K) and her blood oxygen levels were falling but the alarm was not sounding. Not only that, but Lucy Letby was doing nothing.”

The prosecutor said that in those circumstances the “only reasonable thing” for a nurse to have done was either call for help and/or to use a facemask device to breathe for the child.

He went on: “The reason (Child K) was desaturating was because that ET (endotracheal) tube had been displaced and we suggest that the fact Lucy Letby was doing nothing and the fact the alarms were not sounding is evidence from which you can conclude that it was Lucy Letby, the convicted murderer, who had displaced the tube.

“We say Lucy Letby had been caught virtually red-handed by Dr Jayaram.”

Mr Johnson said Child K was desaturated and her tube displaced on two further occasions during the same night shift at a time when the youngster was now “heavily” sedated on morphine.

He said: “On each occasion we say the evidence establishes that Lucy Letby was there. She was now trying to create the impression with her colleagues that (Child K) was habitually dislodging her own tube.”

Child K was eventually transported to Wirral’s Arrowe Park Hospital later the same morning.

She died there three days later although the prosecution do not allege Letby caused her death.

Mr Johnson told the jurors that the defendant had carried out a number of Facebook searches on parents of some of the children she had been convicted of attacking.

He said she searched for Child K’s surname at 11.56pm on April 23 2018.

Mr Johnson said: “No first name because (Child K) did not have a first name when she was at Chester, and Lucy Letby never met her parents because she was in there for such a short period of time.”

In a briefer opening address to the jury, Ben Myers KC, defending, said Child K was a “clinically fragile baby in a unit that was not the ideal setting for a baby of her prematurity”.

He went on: “It is clear that (Child K) did encounter problems with her breathing and with the correct positioning of the tubes that were used to ventilate her that morning.

“(Child K) was struggling to breathe from the start of her life and she was unable to breathe unaided at any point.”

He said the medical notes of Child K’s designated nurse suggested that the tubing from the ventilator had moved and her oxygen levels dropped at about 3.45 am or 3.50am.

Mr Myers said: “The prosecution’s allegation is that Miss Letby deliberately moved the tubing and the defence case is that she did not do that.”

On claims she displaced tubing on two further occasions that night, Mr Myers said: “The defence say the prosecution are just trying to use later events that are not the fault of Miss Letby to support the allegation that she is responsible for the first desaturation.

“Miss Letby does not remember specifically the events of that night and given the hundreds of babies that she cared for in any given year that is hardly surprising if she did nothing wrong.

“She does not agree she interfered with the tubing at any point or that she did anything to harm (Child K).”

He said Letby has always maintained her innocence against all the allegations she has faced.

He added: “It’s important to emphasise the convictions do not prove this allegation.

“It could be very easy for some people to approach this trial as if Lucy Letby must be guilty of this offence or… that they don’t really care if she is guilty or not and they will convict her anyway, whatever.

“If that was the approach then the idea there could be a fair trial would be over before we even begin.

“It is crucial that you look closely at the evidence directly related to February 17 2016. We say the evidence does not support what has been alleged. It simply does not.”

Letby, of Hereford, watched on from the dock as the opening statement was delivered.

She denies attempted murder. The trial continues.