Child-killer diagnosed as dangerous in 1986: Delay in alerting police over poisoned baby left Beverly Allitt free to kill fourth child

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The Independent Online
THE CHILDREN'S nurse Beverly Allitt was diagnosed as dangerous in 1986, five years before she stepped murderously on to Ward 4 of Grantham and Kesteven District Hospital.

On 12 April 1991, with three children dead and six of her patients attacked, the hospital learnt that one baby had been poisoned. Allitt, 24, the serial killer, was allowed to continue her rounds, murdering one more baby and attacking three others during the 18 days before police were called in.

She was convicted yesterday of a fourth murder. The Nottingham Crown Court jury, completing its verdicts after more than 32 hours of deliberation over six days, decided she lethally injected Timothy Hardwick, 11; attempted to murder Katie Phillips, nine weeks; and caused grievous bodily harm to Christopher Peasgood, eight weeks, and Michael Davidson, six.

For 26 attacks during 58 days in 1991, Allitt, of Corby Glen, Lincolnshire, will be sentenced to life imprisonment on

28 May after the judge has heard medical and psychiatric reports. Allitt, who has anorexia, has been at Rampton special hospital, Nottinghamshire, and could stay there for psychiatric care.

The full sequence of events leading to her arrest may never be explored fully or made public, according to parents of her victims.

Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, last night ordered Trent Regional Health Authority to conduct an investigation to be led by Sir Cecil Clothier QC, a former health ombudsman.

The parents fear the inquiry will be a whitewash. Douglas Hogg, Tory MP for Grantham, told Mrs Bottomley an independent public inquiry with quasi-judicial powers was essential because:

The regional health authority should not investigate complaints which include its own poor funding and mismanagement;

A full inquiry would have the power

to subpoena witnesses and obtain vital documents;

Evidence must be heard in public, the only way to reassure the public.

Mr Justice Latham, the judge in the 14- week trial, yesterday demanded to see representatives of the regional health authority and Mrs Bottomley's department. The public had a right to know 'what has been done, what is being done, and what will be done,' to heed the lessons, he said.

Allitt, who had been deemed fit to plead, had denied all 26 charges. The jury was not given expert assessments of her state of mind as that might have prejudiced a fair trial.

In Rampton, she has become the focus for experts in Munchhausen syndrome, a form of attention-seeking whose sufferers inflict 'factitious' injuries on themselves or others.

Physiotherapists at Grantham Hospital were suspicious of Allitt in 1986. She was a regular patient on the casualty ward. Allitt, then at school, said injuries, mainly to a hand, were incurred during fights. 'It became obvious that Allitt's injuries and her explanation of how they occurred were not consistent,' a senior physiotherapist told police. 'They were self-inflicted.'

Allitt stopped attending for about 18 months. Then she returned, by now a student nurse, with back or hand injuries. 'I learnt that Allitt was a pupil nurse . . . I was astonished. I felt that the medical profession should know,' the physiotherapist said.

The physiotherapists told the hospital of their concerns in 1987. Four years later she was hired for the children's ward, although other departments rejected her.

John Goldring QC, for the prosecution, and James Hunt QC, for Allitt, told the court yesterday that Allitt had clearly been suffering before becoming a nurse from a disorder with a 'hysterical' basis.

She made 24 visits to casualty between 1987 and 1991, Mr Goldring said, and reported sick on 94 days during 1990 alone. It was 'a tragedy' for Allitt and her victims that her condition had not been spotted earlier, Mr Hunt said.

Ann Alexander, the lawyer for the families of Allitt's victims, last night said pressure would be increased on Mrs Bottomley to appoint a full public inquiry. 'These events have national implications,' she said. 'The parents blame the Trent Regional Health Authority.'

The authority last night expressed condolences for Allitt's 'evil' crimes. It will make ex-gratia payments to the families. Ms Alexander wants the authority to accept full liability for the negligence of Allitt's appointment and for a hospital management regime that enabled so many patients to be attacked before suspicions were aroused that a killer was prowling the ward.

Findings of an internal investigation, conducted after Allitt's arrest, will be published today. The full terms of reference for the Clothier inquiry will be announced shortly. Professor Richard Alderslade, Trent Regional Medical Officer, said the report would be completed in about three months, and then published.

He denied it would lack powers because it would be unable to subpoena witnesses, and claimed it was proper for the investigation to be in private.

Alister Stewart, Grantham Hospital manager, denied there had been a fatal delay before police were called.

Last night Cohse, the union representing a majority of Grantham nursing staff, told Mrs Bottomley that nurses wanted a full public inquiry.

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