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British Nurse Is Convicted of Killing Seven Newborns

A British nurse was found guilty on Friday in the deaths of seven newborns and the attempted murders of six others, according to the police department responsible for the investigation, ending a yearslong case that has haunted England since a string of deaths in the neonatal unit where the nurse worked came to light in 2016.

The nurse, Lucy Letby, 33, was accused of killing seven babies and trying to kill 10 others while working at the Countess of Chester Hospital in the city of Chester, in northwestern England, between June 2015 and June 2016. She was first charged in 2020. At her trial, the jury did not reach verdicts on six other counts of attempted murder, according to prosecutors. In some cases, there was more than one count pertaining to a baby. And she was found not guilty on two counts of attempted murder.

The guilty verdicts make Ms. Letby the most prolific serial killer of children in modern British history. Over the course of the trial at Manchester Crown Court, which began in October, jurors heard that Ms. Letby had harmed the babies in her care in a number of ways, including by overfeeding them with milk and injecting them with air and insulin. She denied those accusations.

Lucy Letby was found guilty on Friday in the deaths of seven newborns and the attempted murders of six others.Credit…Cheshire Constabulary, via Associated Press

Prosecutors called it a “horrifying case” and said Ms. Letby had intended to kill the babies while blaming natural causes for their conditions.

“She perverted her learning and weaponized her craft to inflict harm, grief and death,” said one of the prosecutors, Pascale Jones, adding that innocuous substances became lethal in her hands. “Her attacks were a complete betrayal of the trust placed in her.”

Families of the victims gasped after the reading of the verdicts, according to reporters who were in court on Friday. Ms. Letby appeared earlier in the day but did not stay until the end, reporters said. She will be sentenced on Monday, and it is expected that she will receive a “whole life order,” meaning she will spend the rest of her life in prison with very little chance of release, a sentence reserved for the most serious of crimes.

An unexpectedly high number of deaths in the neonatal unit of the Countess of Chester Hospital led to an investigation in 2016, after doctors struggled to find a medical explanation.

An independent review published in 2017 found no definitive explanation for the increase in mortality rates, but the report noted significant gaps in staffing, poor decision-making in the unit and an insufficient number of senior staff members.

In 2017, the hospital contacted the Cheshire Constabulary, the police department responsible for the area, which began its own inquiry. At the height of the investigation, the police had 70 officers and civilian staff members working on the case. Investigators gathered around 32,000 documents and interviewed some 2,000 people as part of the case, and police called it an investigation “like no other” in scope and complexity.

“This has been an investigation like no other — in scope, complexity and magnitude,” said a senior police investigator, Paul Hughes, in a statement. “We had to deal with this as 17 separate investigations — we are normally used to dealing with one murder or attempted murder investigation at a time,” he added.

The hospital’s chief executive at the time of the deaths resigned in 2018 and issued a statement referring to the investigation.

Over Ms. Letby’s 10-month trial, the jury heard harrowing evidence that the prosecution said showed that she had deliberately harmed the babies.

Ms. Letby has maintained her innocence. But her case horrified Britain for years before the trial, after she was charged with 22 counts in connection with the deaths and harm to the babies.

Ms. Letby was arrested in 2018 and 2019 in relation to the investigation, but not charged. She was ultimately arrested and charged in 2020 after a criminal investigation by the Cheshire police that focused on the deaths of 17 babies from March 2015 to July 2016.

When the trial began, details of the deaths of the babies, whose names were not used in court, dominated tabloid headlines.

On Friday, prosecutors said they presented evidence Ms. Letby murdered her victims by injecting air and insulin into their bloodstreams, infusing air into their gastrointestinal tracts and force-feeding them milk or fluids. Some victims showed signs of “impact-type trauma,” they said. Key evidence in the case included medical records that featured falsified notes made by Ms. Letby, and staffing schedules that showed the nurse was the “one common denominator” in a series of sudden health problems and deaths in the unit.

The police also collected Ms. Letby’s handwritten notes and diary entries, which contained damning confessions. One read, “I killed them on purpose because I’m not good enough to care for them.”

Ms. Letby’s defense team blamed “suboptimal” care by Chester Hospital for the babies’ deaths and said there had been a “campaign of conspiracy against the defendant by a number of senior doctors,” according to the police. The jury ultimately rejected those contentions.

Families of the victims said in a statement Friday that the verdicts amounted to justice but did not make up for years of what they called a “long, torturous and emotional journey.” The verdicts were also bittersweet, they said, because Ms. Letby was not convicted on all counts.

“Today, justice has been served and the nurse who should have been caring for our babies has been found guilty of harming them,” said the statement, which was provided by the police. “But this justice will not take away from the extreme hurt, anger and distress that we have all had to experience.”

Losing a baby or having a baby harmed in such circumstances was “unimaginable,” they said, adding that some of the surviving babies still suffered from Ms. Letby’s actions years later.

Benjamin Myers, the lawyer who defended Ms. Letby, declined to comment on the verdict.

Steve Barclay, the British health secretary, said he had ordered an independent inquiry into how Ms. Letby managed to evade detection for years, following reports in the British news media that hospital managers had ignored repeated warnings about her conduct.

Nigel Scawn, the medical director at the Countess of Chester Hospital where Ms. Letby worked, pledged that “significant changes” had been made since the nurse’s killing spree.

“We are committed to ensuring that lessons continue to be learned,” he told reporters.

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