For a mother whose newborn was gravely ill in the neonatal unit of the Countess of Chester Hospital, she was a ray of light: a calm, comforting nurse who guided her through her most desperate moments as her child lay listless in his cot.
“Trust me, I’m a nurse,” she smiled at her, and the mother did, completely. But within hours, her baby boy was dead, and the nurse in whom she had placed so much trust, who had been by her side through the darkest time of her life, was responsible.
The baby, identified only as Child E, was one of the victims of Lucy Letby, who has been found guilty of seven counts of both murder and attempted murder over the course of 12 months, from June 2015 to June 2016. She was found not guilty of two attempted murder charges, and the jury could not reach verdicts on a further six counts of the same charge.
Letby, 33, was not in the dock at Manchester Crown Court on Friday when the jury was discharged after deliberating for 22 days in a trial that has lasted 10 months. They found that she had killed or tried to kill the babies she should have been caring for – by injecting them with air, poisoning them with insulin, and overfeeding them with milk.
But despite a lengthy trial that involved more than 240 witnesses, the families of her victims still have one haunting question left unanswered: why did she do it?
‘Another side that nobody saw’
Throughout the trial, what has been notable is just how unremarkable Letby’s life was: a normal nurse who had a normal upbringing. “How I would describe her from my own experience in this investigation is ‘beige’,” deputy senior investigating officer DCI Nicola Evans said. “There isn’t anything outstanding or outrageous that we found about her as a person, in that she was an average nurse.
“She was a normal twentysomething-year-old, doing what she was doing with her career, her friends. But clearly there was another side of that, that nobody saw.”
Letby was brought up in Hereford as the only child of John and Susan Letby. She attended the local comprehensive and the family spent holidays in Devon. Jurors were shown pictures of her childhood bedroom, with two teddy bears placed on a duvet cover bearing the motif “Sweet Dreams”.
Framed pictures containing the slogans “Shine bright like a diamond” and “Leave sparkles wherever you go” appear on the bedroom walls, while a fluffy pink and white polkadot dressing gown hangs on the door. The images prompted a rare show of emotion, as Letby broke down in the dock.
Moving 100 miles from home to study at the University of Chester, she was seen as a studious type, never staying out late. On qualifying as a registered NHS nurse in 2011, Letby developed a reputation among her colleagues as reliable, hard-working and trustworthy.
Two years later, she became the face of a campaign to raise £3m for the neonatal unit, and was a familiar sight in her neat uniform, her hair scraped back in a ponytail.
The unit, and the staff within it, became her world, and she described her colleagues as her “family”. When asked in court, witnesses agreed that she had appeared professional throughout her time there, using words such as “knowledgeable” and “thorough” to describe her approach to work.
Not short of friends, pictures of Letby on social media show a happy young woman enjoying life in her mid-twenties.
Holidays in Ibiza, sipping prosecco and vodka with friends to celebrate a win at the Grand National, and salsa classes with colleagues filled her social calendar. Shortly before she was moved from frontline duties in 2016, Letby travelled to Ibiza for a holiday with her girlfriends. Messages sent on 13 June showed a young woman groaning about packing and making jokes about Love Island.
After returning from the Spanish island on 22 June, she murdered two brothers from a set of triplets, Child O and Child P, on successive days.
‘It can’t be Lucy’
Letby had joined her colleagues in appearing horrified at the apparent “run of bad luck” the neonatal ward was experiencing.
In reality, however, the alarm had been raised after the string of “inexplicable” deaths had caught the attention of consultants. While premature babies are often vulnerable, a number of sudden deteriorations and bizarre skin discolourations had pointed to something far more sinister.
As early as her third murder in June 2015, Letby was named as the “common denominator”, having been present at each incident.
A senior doctor, Dr Ravi Jayaram, testified that he had raised concerns about Letby to the hospital administration as early as 2015 after connecting her presence with a series of “unexpected and inexplicable” deaths and incidents.
In one instance, he told jurors that he had observed Letby standing over an infant whose breathing tube had been dislodged. Despite the baby’s oxygen levels dropping, he claimed, Letby did not do anything until he intervened.
But others could not believe she might be the perpetrator.
“It can’t be Lucy, not nice Lucy,” Dr Stephen Brearey told a fellow consultant during initial discussions about the deaths.
Her parents, too, were oblivious. “Guess who will be coming home for Christmas xxx’, Letby texted to them the day after killing a baby by injecting air into its bloodstream. Her mother replied: “That’s fab I could cry x”.
Text messages revealed the high regard in which she was held by her friends and colleagues, with one doctor writing “You’re a fab nurse” after a baby suffered two collapses. Another doctor wrote that she was one of the few nurses he “would trust with my own children”, when it became clear that her actions were under scrutiny.
One conversation involved a married male registrar. Letby denied he was her boyfriend, despite the two having travelled to London together and exchanged heart emojis in their text messages.
In texts read out by the prosecutor, Letby’s nursing friend teased “[I] think he likes u too” and said that the registrar was “as flirty as u”. She replied: “Shut up... I don’t flirt with him!” before adding: “Certainly don’t fancy him haha just nice guy.” When he appeared in the witness box, she attempted to leave the dock in tears.
It was suggested that, desperate to gain his approval, she had sabotaged Child O deliberately to attract his attention and cause him to return to the hospital to help.
On a scribbled piece of paper found at his address, she had written a declaration of love next to his name, which cannot be published for legal reasons. Scrawled in black ink were the words “I loved you” and “My best friend”.
‘I killed them on purpose’
The darker side of her character was revealed in a number of scribbled Post-it notes on which she wrote: “I AM EVIL I DID THIS.”
Other notes included the lines: “I killed them on purpose because I’m not good enough to care for them, and I am a horrible and evil person”, and “There are no words. I am an awful person. I pay everyday for that.”
Police also recovered notes that included “many protestations of innocence” and phrases such as “kill myself”, “No Hope”, and “HATE” written in capital letters.
Becoming emotional in the dock when talking about her forced departure from the neonatal unit, she said: “At this point I didn’t know what to do. It was having a massive impact on all aspects of my life.
“It was emotionally very difficult. I was lonely, I was worried, I didn’t know what was going on.”
Her barrister, Benjamin Myers KC, described the notes as the “anguished outpouring of a young woman in fear and despair” who was facing multiple charges of murdering the babies it had been her duty to protect.
When the eight guilty verdicts were returned by the jury on Friday 11 August – four of murder and four of attempted murder – Letby was unmoved, but her mother Susan cried out: “This can’t be right, this can’t be right.” Sobbing uncontrollably, she was escorted from the courtroom by her husband.
Now found guilty of a total of seven murders and the attempted murders of six other babies, Letby is one of Britain’s most prolific serial killers of children, having taken advantage of the position of trust that she held to carry out a horrific campaign of attacks on the most vulnerable.
“She abused the trust of the people around her, not just the parents who had trusted her with their babies but also the nurses she worked with, the people she regarded as friends,” said DCI Evans.
“Lucy Letby was operating in plain sight.”