Parents of babies attacked by Lucy Letby received a “total fob off” from a hospital medical director after raising concerns, a lawyer representing them has said.
Ian Harvey was medical director at the Countess of Chester Hospital at the time the 33-year-old nurse carried out her crimes, murdering seven babies and attempting to kill six others, but he retired in August 2018, a month after she was first arrested.
Richard Scorer, from law firm Slater and Gordon which is representing two of the families, accused Mr Harvey of a “shameful” failure to address parental concerns.
His claims come as the NHS ombudsman and former home secretary Jack Straw joined those calling for an inquiry into Letby's crimes to be upgraded so witnesses could be compelled to attend.
Mr Scorer said: “Our clients received a series of anodyne letters from Harvey containing no proper explanation or clarification.
“The letters invited them to contact Harvey for more explanation and they tried to contact him repeatedly, but despite many attempts to get through to him they never received a return call.
“Our clients have described his response as a ‘total fob off’.
“It seems that Harvey had little interest in passing any meaningful information to the parents, responding properly to any of their concerns, or complying with any duty of candour to them.
“In our view this failure to address parental concerns was shameful and another matter which needs to be investigated by a statutory inquiry with the power to compel witnesses and the production of documents.”
I'm sorry they felt fobbed off. I wanted to give detailed and accurate answers, but this was difficult while the reviews and investigations were taking place
Statement from Ian Harvey
In a statement to the Guardian newspaper, Mr Harvey said: “Having read the heart-rending victim impact statements, I know how desperate the parents are for answers and I will help them as best I can at the inquiry.
“I’m sorry they felt fobbed off. I wanted to give detailed and accurate answers, but this was difficult while the reviews and investigations were taking place. Once the police were involved, we were advised by them not to say or do anything that might jeopardise their investigation.”
The Daily Telegraph reported that Mr Harvey was referred to the General Medical Council (GMC) in 2018 following allegations he “misled the public in media statements”, encouraged “an atmosphere of secrecy and fear” and failed to act “appropriately or in a timely manner” when consultants raised concerns.
Anthony Omo, director of fitness to practise and general counsel at the GMC, said: “In 2018 we received a complaint about Ian Harvey which we promoted for a full investigation. During our investigation, we liaised with the police, obtained an independent expert report and a witness statement, and thoroughly examined all relevant information.
“At the conclusion of our investigation, our senior decision makers considered all of the evidence and decided that the case did not reach the threshold for referral to the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service for a hearing.”
The hospital saw a significant rise in the number of babies suffering serious and unexpected collapses in 2015 and 2016.
Letby’s presence when collapses took place was first mentioned to senior management by the unit’s head consultant in late June 2015.
Concerns among some consultants about the defendant increased and were voiced to hospital bosses when more unexplained and unusual collapses followed, her trial at Manchester Crown Court heard.
But Letby was not removed from the unit until after the deaths of two triplet boys and the collapse of another baby boy on three successive days in June 2016.
She was confined to clerical work but registered a grievance procedure, which was resolved in her favour, and was due to return to the unit in March 2017.
The move did not take place as soon after police were contacted by the hospital trust.
You can shame a lot of (witnesses) but you can’t shame them all, and there may be witnesses in the Letby case who really ought to be on the stand
Former home secretary Jack Straw
On Wednesday, former home secretary Jack Straw joined those calling for an inquiry into Letby’s crimes to be given a statutory footing, which would mean witnesses would be compelled to attend to give evidence.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “You can shame a lot of (witnesses) but you can’t shame them all, and there may be witnesses in the Letby case who really ought to be on the stand, who are the most vulnerable in terms of the positions they have taken, and who won’t be bothered about being shamed – they would rather be shamed for their absence than actually appear on the stand.”
In a letter, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Rob Behrens told Health Secretary Steve Barclay: "Only a statutory inquiry can provide the strong legal powers necessary to compel witnesses and the release of evidence.
"The inquiry should have all possible levers available to it to get to the truth. The families involved deserve no less."