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Lucy Letby inquiry upgraded to statutory probe to compel witnesses to give evidence under oath

The statutory inquiry will look at the circumstances surrounding the murders and attempted murders committed by the serial killer nurse

Eleanor Noyce
Thursday 31 August 2023 05:54 BST
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Witnesses to the Lucy Letby inquiry will be compelled to give evidence under oath after the government upgraded the probe to a statutory one following growing pressure from the victims’ families.

The inquiry will look at the circumstances surrounding the murders of seven babies and the attempted murders of six others committed by the serial killer nurse at the Countess of Chester Hospital between 2015 and 2016.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the move was taken after listening to the concerns of the families, who were worried the original probe would lack the legal powers needed to uncover a possible NHS cover-up.

The inquiry into serial killer Lucy Letby’s crimes will become statutory, the Health Secretary Steve Barclay has announced (Cheshire Police/PA) (PA Media)

Announcing the news on Wednesday evening, Mr Barclay said: “The crimes committed by Lucy Letby are truly harrowing, and my thoughts remain with the families of her victims.

“Following her conviction, we announced an inquiry and said the nature of this inquiry would be shaped by the families.

“Having now discussed this with the families, we will launch a full statutory inquiry giving it the legal powers to compel witnesses to give evidence. This statutory public inquiry will aim to give the families the answers they need and ensure lessons are learned.”

Mr Barclay said while statutory inquiries typically take longer to conclude than non-statutory ones, the move would mean it will have legal powers to force witnesses, including former and current staff of the Countess of Chester Hospital Trust, to give evidence.

It will also mean evidence must be heard in public, unless the inquiry chair, who has yet to be announced, decides otherwise.

The news comes after the government announced that criminals will be forced into the dock to hear their sentence under new laws to be rolled out after Letby refused to attend her hearing.

A police car escorts the prison van believed to be carrying the convicted hospital nurse Lucy Letby leaves Manchester Crown Court, 21 August 2023 (Getty Images)

Judges will be given the power to order an offender into court, including by force if necessary, the Ministry of Justice said on Tuesday.

Letby, 33, was found guilty of murdering seven babies and the attempted murder of six others earlier this month and will served the rest of her life in prison.

But she refused to attend her sentencing, prompting an outcry and fresh calls for ministers to speed up a promised change in the law.

Letby is depicted listening to the verdicts being read at Manchester Crown Court, 10 August 2023 (PA)

Announcing the law change on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak said it was “unacceptable” some of the country’s most horrendous criminals refused to face their victims in court.

“They cannot and should not be allowed to take the coward’s way out,” the prime minister said.

Those who refuse to attend court could have an extra two years added to their sentence.

The moved has been hailed by victims and campaigners, including the mother of nine-year-old shooting victim Olivia Pratt-Korbel, whose killer Thomas Cashman also refused to face his victims’ family in court.

Earlier this month, Good Morning Britain host Richard Madeley suggested that criminals such as Letby should be “tasered” if they refuse to appear for their court sentencing.

Letby was found guilty of murdering seven babies and the attempted murder of six others earlier this month (Cheshire Constabulary/AFP via Ge)

“If we’re being told we can’t get these people back into court because... they might be aggressive and dangerous, well that’s why you go in mob-handed ... you have tasers to deal with people like that, and you have truncheons,” the host said.

The reasons why Letby committed the murders may never be fully understood, although prosecutors and other experts told jurors during her trial of several possible motivations, including that she got a ‘thrill’ from the ‘grief and despair’ of parents and enjoyed ‘playing God.’

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