The 33-year-old, now the most prolific child serial killer in modern British history, deliberately injected infants with air, force-fed them with milk or poisoned them with insulin during a “cruel, calculated and cynical campaign of child murder” at the Countess of Chester Hospital.
She was handed a whole-life sentence in her absence – making her only the fourth woman in UK history to be told she will never be released from prison.
Sentencing her at Manchester Crown Court, Judge Mr Justice Goss said the nurse had shown a “deep malevolence bordering on sadism” as she targeted “the smallest and most vulnerable of children”.
It came as:
- Letby joined serial killers Rose West and Joanna Dennehy and late Moors murderer Myra Hindley to become one of only four women given a sentence of life in prison without parole
- One mother described how her child was buried in a gown that had been chosen by Letby
- Rishi Sunak came under pressure to give judges power to force criminals to attend sentencing hearings
- Keir Starmer joined calls for the government to launch a statutory inquiry into NHS failings over the case
- The judge ordered Letby be sent a transcript of his sentencing remarks and statements read out by the families
Addressing the empty dock, the judge told Letby she had acted “in a way that was completely contrary to the normal human instincts of nurturing and caring for babies”.
He added: “The babies you harmed were born prematurely and some were at risk of not surviving, but in each case you deliberately harmed them intending to kill them.”
The judge described “premeditation, calculation and cunning” in her actions, adding that her claims to have done her best in caring for babies was “one of many lies” she told throughout the trial.
He continued: “You have coldly denied any responsibility for your wrongdoing and sought to attribute some fault to others...
“There is no doubt that you are intelligent and outwardly were a very conscientious, hardworking, knowledgable nurse – which enabled you to harm babies for some time.”
Letby had been convicted by a jury of murdering seven babies and trying to kill six more while working in the Countess of Chester Hospital’s neonatal unit between 2015 and 2016.
She was found not guilty on two counts of attempted murder and the jury could not reach verdicts on another six counts of the same charge.
Her parents, who had attended court throughout the trial, were absent from the court during the sentencing on Monday but more than a dozen relatives of Letby’s victims, as well as eight jurors involved in the ten-month trial, sat in the public gallery.
The court heard victim impact statements from parents whose children had been killed by Letby, with some of the jurors becoming visibly upset as they heard the testimonies.
All of the families involved in the case have been granted anonymity, with the babies only identified by a letter.
The mother of murdered Child C told the court that there would be “no sentence that will ever compare to the excruciating agony that we have suffered”.
“At least now there is no debate that, in your own words, you killed them on purpose. You are evil. You did this.
“The realisation that the ‘kind’ nurse who had watched over the family was actually their child’s killer was like “something out of a horror story”, she said.
With a shaking voice, the mother of Child E said that she had had to grieve her child’s death in front of Letby and other members of the neonatal unit and was not given privacy. Chillingly, she added that her child, a twin, was buried in a gown that had been chosen by Letby and given as a gift from the unit.
Hitting out at Letby’s absence, she added: “Even in these final days of the trial she has tried to control things, the disrespect she has shown the families and the court show what type of person she is.
“We have attended court day in and day out, yet she decides she has had enough and stays in her cell – just one final act of wickedness from a coward.”
The mother of Child O and P, who were also murdered by Letby, said the serial killer had been the last person to hold Child P and also dressed him after he died.
With his head bowed and struggling to get through the statement, the children’s father said he had considered taking his own life after their deaths.
“Lucy Letby has destroyed our lives,” he added. “The anger and the hatred I have towards her will never go away.”
Hospital bosses have come under intense scrutiny over the steps taken to remove Letby from the unit following concerns being raised by consultants.
The government has ordered an independent inquiry into the circumstances behind the murders. Some of the grieving families of Letby’s victims have said that the investigation should be upgraded to one with statutory powers that would compel witnesses to attend by law.
The Independent understands the government is discussing whether to upgrade the inquiry, weighing up whether the speed a non-statutory review may offer would be outweighed by the benefits of a full public inquiry.
Mr Sunak has come under pressure to change the law to give judges the power to force criminals to attend a sentencing hearing after Letby’s refusal, which follows the non-attendance of the killers of Olivia Pratt-Korbel, Zara Aleena and Sabina Nessa.
No 10 said the law would be changed “as soon as possible” – but rejected the idea of using the Victims and Prisoners Bill currently going through parliament.
The prime minister described Letby as “cowardly”, while justice secretary Alex Chalk said it was “the final insult”.
Mr Chalk – who promised action on the issue back in June – said: “Cases like these make me even more determined to make sure the worst offenders attend court to face justice.”
Sir Keir Starmer accused the government of “dragging its heels” over changing the law to compel criminals to attend sentencing. “I want to see action as quickly as possible,” he told reporters on Monday.
The Labour leader also added his voice to calls for the inquiry to be put on a statutory footing – arguing that it would give a judge the power to order documents and order witnesses to come forward, as well as being “what the victims’ family want”.
Former Tory justice minister and barrister David Wolfson KC told Times Radio that it’s “very likely” it would now be put on a statutory footing, while Steve Brine, Tory chair of the health select committee, told the BBC that a judge-led inquiry would ensure it does not “disappear down a rabbit hole”.
Police detectives are reviewing the care of all babies admitted to hospital while Letby was working as a neonatal nurse. The review will include her time at Liverpool Women’s Hospital in 2012 and 2015, when she was on work placements.
Detective Chief Inspector Nicola Evans said Letby was a “calculated and dangerous individual”, whose sentence “reflects the true scale and gravity of her horrific crimes”.