Police 'panicked' into arrest over hospital deaths

Solicitor of freed nurse claims that over-the-top coverage of Stockport case led to hasty decisions

The lawyer acting for the former nurse who he says was wrongly implicated in the deaths of three hospital patients claimed yesterday that police had been "panicked" into arresting and charging his client because of pressure from hospital authorities and the media.

Rebecca Leighton, 27, now plans to fight to restore her career and reputation after her release from custody on Friday, Carl Richmond, her solicitor said yesterday. Miss Leighton was released after the Crown Prosecution Service admitted there was not "sufficient evidence" for the case against her to continue.

She was arrested in July after detectives from Greater Manchester Police were called in to investigate the deaths of three patients at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.

The three, Tracey Arden, 44, Arnold Lancaster, 71, and Derek Weaver, 83, are all believed to have died after their saline drips were contaminated by insulin. Miss Leighton, of Heaviley, Stockport, a night-shift sister on the ward where all three victims died, was arrested three days after police were called in. She has always denied the allegations but was charged with six counts of criminal damage and one of theft.

Mr Richmond, of Middleweeks Solicitors, said evidence in the case was "unclear" from the outset, adding that up to 40 people could have been charged over fingerprints found on several items including saline bags.

Outlining why he believed Miss Leighton had been singled out, Mr Richmond said: "It was based on a shift pattern and her ability to be able to do it. There were umpteen other people who also fitted those criteria. For me, the police were pressured by the hospital because of the chaos there. It was not known who was responsible and the fact that some of the media coverage was really over the top, like 'Angel of Death' – I think it forced their hand.

"Ordinarily suspects are interviewed and receive police bail while inquires continue. They seem to have panicked to charge her straight away and think about the consequences afterwards," he said.

Greater Manchester Police yesterday declined to comment on his claims but have defended their decision to bring the charges.

The solicitor confirmed Miss Leighton, who previously enjoyed an exemplary career, now plans to challenge a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) decision to suspend her from its register and is working with the Royal College of Nursing to clear her name.

She was found with hospital antibiotics, ibuprofen and bandages when arrested, he said: "To prosecute for that, they would have to prosecute almost every doctor and nurse in the country. It was not hard drugs. We're talking about antibiotics, because she worked five nights on the trot and was getting a throat infection. She was told to take them home and take them. That's why it's been dropped because it is simply not in the public interest."

In a statement, Miss Leighton said she had been "living in hell and was locked up in prison for something I had not done." She said all she had ever wanted to do was "pursue a profession in nursing, and care for my patients".

A trust source said that previously low staffing levels have improved across its hospitals, but added that it was not clear for how long.

"There are a lot more security checks. Only one nurse in charge is allowed the main key into drugs rooms. Security has been upped terribly," the source said. "Saline wasn't checked before, it came in and was locked in a cupboard. Now it is checked when it comes on to wards by two nurses who squeeze them to check there are no puncture holes."

Police admitted they are now investigating a total of 40 cases of contamination, including a further four suspicious deaths. Relatives of these four, whose identities have not been released, have been told by police that the deaths had been referred to the coroner.

Police said the Stepping Hill inquiry was now as big and as complex as the 1996 Manchester bomb investigation. Officers said they had interviewed 200 of the 700 people they wish to speak to, including hospital staff, visitors and patients.

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices