Tears in the dock as nurse is sent for trial

More cases may emerge after Manchester coroner reviews all recent deaths at Stockport hospital

A nurse appeared in court yesterday in connection with the deaths of five patients at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport. Rebecca Leighton, 27, was remanded in custody at a hearing at Manchester Magistrates' Court. She spoke only to confirm her name, date of birth and address.

The nurse, from Heaviley, Stockport, faces three charges of criminal damage intending to endanger life, three charges of criminal damage being reckless as to whether life would be endangered, and one charge of theft.

Ms Leighton wept in the dock and had to keep taking deep breaths to maintain her composure as the magistrates ordered her case to be sent for trial at Manchester Crown Court.

Nazir Afzal, chief crown prosecutor for CPS North West, said: "We have considered the evidence that the police have referred to us at this stage of their investigations into the unexplained deaths of five patients at Stepping Hill Hospital. We have now decided that there is sufficient evidence to charge Rebecca Leighton.

"These are serious charges that relate to allegations that Rebecca Leighton tampered with medical products, saline ampoules and saline bags in Stepping Hill Hospital and by doing so endangered the lives of patients."

The maximum sentence for the criminal damage charges is life imprisonment.

Greater Manchester Police stressed yesterday that the deaths were being treated as suspicious and that the official cause of death of the victims was not yet known.

Staff across NHS Stockport had keys to medicine cupboards taken from them as they returned to work earlier this week, with entry to hospitals monitored by security guards.

A trust source said: "It's been an awful atmosphere this week. We have all had to sign in with an ID badge every time we enter the buildings. It's as if we are being penalised for everything that has happened. It's horrendous. Patients feel on edge at the moment."

Dozens more deaths may have to be investigated by detectives. John Pollard, the South Manchester coroner, is understood to be reviewing all deaths at the hospital since 7 July.

Fears were raised last week when at least 14 patients on wards A1 to A3 were reported to have "unexplained" low blood sugar levels.

Tracey Arden, 44, of Heavily, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, died on 7 July; retired photographer Arnold Lancaster, 71, of Romiley, died on 11 July; George Keep, 84, of Cheadle, who had lung cancer, died on 14 July after being admitted with a broken hip; and on the same day, Vera Pearson, 84, also died.

Derek Weaver, 83, from Stockport, died on Thursday after suffering a hypoglycaemic episode on 11 July. He was admitted the day before with breathing problems. A man in his 40s remains "very poorly" in a critical care unit at the hospital.