Nurse 'killed children in her care on Ward 4': Over 59 days, four children were murdered and nine were victims of hospital attacks, court told

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CHILDREN'S nurse Beverley Allitt murdered four of her patients, a court was told yesterday. She tried to murder nine other babies and children. During 59 days on Ward 4, she became a bedside killer, inducing heart attacks, smothering victims with her hand, or interrupting their oxygen supply, the jury heard. Ms Allitt was fresh out of nursing school.

Yesterday, Ms Allitt, 24, pleaded not guilty at Nottingham Crown Court to a total of 26 charges, including four of murder at Grantham and Kesteven District Hospital and 11 of attempted murder on the ward or in the Lincolnshire town during 1991.

She was the only possible culprit said John Goldring, QC, opening the prosecution. When she was off-duty, patients' conditions were stabilised or improved. When Ms Allitt was on the ward, children being treated there suffered heart attacks or 'stopped breathing', he added. 'There was a criminal at large.'

It took more than five minutes to read the indictments. Ms Allitt, thin and pale with dark rings around her eyes, stared ahead, her gaze seldom rising above the dock. She listened impassively as Mr Goldring described quietly to a jury of seven men and five women how Liam Taylor, seven weeks old and suffering from bronchitis, was placed under her care.

He was 'a sick baby', Mr Goldring said, but what was to happen to him 'astonished' other nurses. Alarms monitoring his breathing and blood oxygen level should have rung, but did not. He suffered heart attacks and brain damage; and after he died, a world expert in child pathology said he had never seen a case like it. 'Something was done to him.' Mr Goldring said he did not know why a nurse should do these things, or what precisely was done to all of Ms Allitt's victims.

The jury were shown three charts, denoting which nurses were on duty on Ward 4 and correlating the condition of patients with the work rota. Mr Goldring said two ward registers were kept in which nurses recorded patient details. Pages were cut from one book; the other was found in a wardrobe at Ms Allitt's home.

Ms Allitt had started work on the children's ward in the February. She had been on Ward 4 before as a student, but had been turned down for a staff job. On 15 February she was offered, and began, a six-month contract. The day before, a key to a refrigerator containing drugs had disappeared, Mr Goldring said.

Several relatives of Ms Allitt's alleged victims were in court as Mr Goldring outlined how Timothy Hardwick was admitted 12 days after Liam's death.

Timothy was 10 years old, but had a mental age of four months. He had suffered convulsions but, three hours after arriving on the ward, he was 'rousable and responding'. Soon after, with Ms Allitt attending him, Timothy's heart stopped beating. He died. A contemporary diagnosis of death caused by an epileptic attack was, with hindsight, wrong. 'Something was done,' Mr Goldring said. 'There is sensibly only one candidate for doing it.'

Nurse Allitt had two days off

after Timothy's killing. When she returned to duty, on 8 March, Kayley Desmond was getting better, Mr Goldring said. The 15- month-old had a chest infection, but was 'not seriously ill'.

Then Kayley worsened. Early on 11 March, Ms Allitt, who had been nursing her, asked a colleague to look at the child's 'mottled' complexion. Kayley stopped breathing. She was transferred to hospital in Nottingham, and recovered speedily.

'We do not know what precisely was done to her,' Mr Goldring said. But an X-ray showed 'a remarkable discovery' - air was in her body, having been injected with a syringe.

Paul Crampton, aged five months, also recovered after transfer to Nottingham. Ms Allitt accompanied him in the ambulance, Mr Goldring told jurors, perhaps to 'enjoy the drama'.

Paul had suffered massive attacks caused by extremely low levels of sugar in his blood. He was not a diabetic. Admitted on 20 March, he was almost well enough to go home after treatment for bronchial illness when Ms Allitt returned from a rest day.

That evening, Paul's condition deteriorated 'inexplicably', Mr Goldring said. 'Someone had given Paul insulin.' Ms Allitt began a three-day break. Paul Crompton got better. She returned to work on 28 March. 'What happens next has a sort of inevitability,' Mr Goldring said. Paul suffered a massive attack having been injected with 80 per cent of the full adult insulin dose.

The trial continues today.

(Photographs omitted)

'Criminal at large', page 3