A nurse has been charged by police in connection with the deaths of five patients at a hospital in Stockport.
The arrest comes as it was announced that dozens more deaths could be reviewed by detectives.
Rebecca Leighton, 27, was charged with three counts of causing damage with intent to endanger life, three counts of criminal damage being reckless as to whether life would be endangered and one charge of theft, and one count of theft of medicine from the hospital. The charge comes after three days of questioning by detectives from Greater Manchester Police. The maximum term for the charges is life imprisonment.
Friends and family of Ms Leighton, from Heaviley, Stockport, have expressed astonishment at her arrest, saying she was dedicated to her job. On the same day that Ms Leighton was charged, the inquiry into the five suspected fatal cases of malicious tampering continued to widen. The South Manchester Coroner John Pollard has indicated that he will look again at all unexplained deaths at Stepping Hill hospital since 7 July as well as those that occur in the future.
It was reported yesterday that up to 50 deaths could now form part of the investigation, however police would not confirm this figure. Greater Manchester Police admitted it was likely that more cases would now be considered by the 60 detectives working on the investigation. Last night, an 84-year-old woman, who was identified as a possible victim on Thursday, was named as Vera Pearson. Her family was too upset to comment.
Mrs Pearson died on 14 July, and her case was referred to the police after a post-mortem examination found she had been suffering from low blood sugar. Until now, the investigation has focused on 14 patients who were in wards A1 and A3 at the hospital. She was not included in the original 14 cases – nine of whom have now recovered.
It is believed that saline drips were adulterated with insulin causing patients to experience sudden low blood sugar levels. The devices are used to rehydrate patients who are ill. Staff must now work in teams of two while dispensing medication, and the saline has been moved to locked cupboards.
Officers are trawling through medical records and forensic material. The task of looking back at other unexplained deaths at the hospital could take months.
Stepping Hill has reopened to ambulances after emergency patients were diverted away for five days.
The suspected victims so far include mother-of-two and grandmother Tracey Arden, 44, of Heaviley, who died on July 7. She was suffering from multiple sclerosis. Retired photographer Arnold Lancaster, 71, of Romiley, died on July 11. George Keep, of Cheadle, who had lung cancer, died on July 14 after being admitted with a broken hip. Widower Alfred Weaver, 83, died on Thursday, 10 days after suffering a hypoglycaemic episode.
None of the causes of death has been officially confirmed and police are awaiting further pathology tests.