Nurse tells of living hell after saline death charges are dropped


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All charges against a nurse accused of poisoning hospital patients by contaminating saline drips have been dropped after lawyers concluded there was too little evidence to secure a conviction.

Rebecca Leighton, 27, was charged after police launched an investigation into the suspicious deaths of several patients at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport. She was accused of tampering with saline ampoules and saline bags.

Her release from Styal Prison, where she was held on remand, came as Greater Manchester Police said their investigation into suspected poisonings at Stepping Hill was as big and as complicated as the inquiry into the 1996 IRA bombing in Manchester. They are now treating seven deaths as suspicious.

Ms Leighton had been in custody for more than five weeks while police and prosecutors prepared for a trial scheduled to take place early next year.

"I have been living in hell and was locked up in prison for something I had not done," she said in a statement read last night by her lawyer, Carl Richmond, outside her parents' home in Denton, Greater Manchester. "It was so frustrating for me knowing that the person who has actually carried out these terrible acts is still out there.

"My life has been turned upside down. All I ever wanted to do was pursue a profession in nursing, and care for my patients."

Her release was ordered after the Crown Prosecution Service, on the advice of leading counsel, accepted that it had such a weak case that there was no justification in allowing the charges to stand.

Ms Leighton, of Heaviley, Stockport, was charged on July 23 with three counts of criminal damage intending to endanger life, three of criminal damage being reckless as to whether life would be endangered, and one of theft of medication.

Nazir Afzal, the chief crown prosecutor in the north-west of England, admitted that "on the evidence currently available there is not a case in law which could proceed and that the charges should be discontinued".

He claimed that there was enough evidence for the charge of theft but that as she had spent several weeks in prison already it was not in the public interest to proceed. The police investigation continues and if fresh evidence emerges she can be charged again.

At brief hearing at Manchester Crown Court last month Ms Leighton's QC, Simon Csoka, said the evidence was so weak that she had "no case to answer". Mr Justice Henriques, at the same hearing, said the chief evidence consisted of her fingerprints on a saline ampoul that had been punctured by a needle, and that not only were there other fingerprints on the material but that as a staff nurse Ms Leighton had "every reason" to touch such equipment.

She had come under suspicion as police investigated at least 15 deaths at the hospital, and up to 33 other patients who may have been injured. Questions were raised about the cause of the deaths because of unexplained low blood sugar counts.

Seven deaths, including those of Tracey Arden, 44, Arnold Lancaster, 71, and Derek Weaver, 83, still form part of the investigation. Police said there were two confirmed cases where there was a "high probability" that the deaths were caused by contaminated products.