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Lucy Letby trial jurors told they must not approach case with preconceived views

Lucy Letby denies attempted murder (Cheshire Constabulary/PA)
Lucy Letby denies attempted murder (Cheshire Constabulary/PA)

Jurors in the retrial of Lucy Letby have been reminded by a judge they “must not approach the case with any preconceived views”.

On Monday, Mr Justice Goss gave his directions of law to the jury of six women and six men at Manchester Crown Court over the allegation she attempted to murder a baby girl, Child K, while she worked a night shift at the Countess of Chester Hospital’s neo-natal unit in February 2016.

Letby, 34, was convicted last August by another jury of the murders of seven babies and the attempted murders of six others at the hospital between June 2015 and June 2016, but a verdict on the allegation concerning Child K could not be reached and a retrial was ordered on that single count.

The prosecution say she deliberately dislodged Child K’s breathing tube and was “caught virtually red-handed” by consultant paediatrician Dr Ravi Jayaram, when he walked into the unit’s intensive care nursery room one at about 3.45am on February 17.

Front entrance of the Countess of Chester Hospital
The Countess of Chester Hospital (PA)

From the witness box, Letby told the court she did not recall being in nursery one at any time during the shift.

She said she did nothing to harm Child K and had not intended to, or tried to, harm any baby in her care as she maintained her innocence.

Mr Justice Goss told the jury: “You decide the case on, and only on, all the evidence placed before you. There will be no more and you must not speculate about what other evidence there might have been.

“As I said at the very beginning of the trial, you must not approach the case with any preconceived views and you must cast out of your decision-making process any response or approach to the case based on emotion or any feelings of sympathy or antipathy you may have.

“It is instinctive for anyone to react with horror to any allegation of deliberately harming a child, the more so a vulnerable, very premature baby.

Court artist drawing of Lucy Letby giving evidence
Lucy Letby giving evidence during her trial at Manchester Crown Court (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

“You will naturally feel sympathy for (the parents of Child K).

“You must, however, judge the case on all the evidence in the case in a fair, calm, objective and analytical way, applying your knowledge of human behaviour, how people act and react, and using your common sense and collective good judgment in your assessment of the evidence and the conclusions to be drawn from it.”

He went on: “You do not have to resolve every conflict in the evidence and be sure about every point that has been raised or try to determine exactly what happened.

“You are not detectives and, you may think, it would be a remarkable and exceptional case in which a jury could say we know everything about what happened in any case.

“Nor do you have to be sure of any motive or motives. Motives for criminal behaviour are sometimes complex and not always clear. You only have to make decisions on those matters that will enable you to say whether the defendant is guilty or not.”

The judge said Letby’s convictions for murder and attempted murder “does not prove that she has committed this offence on this occasion”.

He added: “Her previous convictions may only be used as some support for the prosecution case if, having assessed the evidence, you are satisfied that it is right so to do.”

Child K was transferred to a specialist hospital later on February 17 because of her extreme prematurity. She died there three days later, although the prosecution does not allege Letby caused her death.

Letby, of Hereford, denies attempted murder.

A court order prohibits reporting of the identities of the surviving and dead children involved in the case.

In his closing speech to the jury, prosecutor Nick Johnson KC said: “Lucy Letby is an extraordinary person. Not in a good way.

“She has murdered seven children and also tried to murder six. Thirteen separate children.

“And you now have to consider whether she also tried to murder (Child K). And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the shocking and dreadful context of this case.

“The crimes themselves are wholly abnormal but so too are the circumstances in which they were committed.

“So cunning and devious was Lucy Letby that she managed to commit her crimes undetected for all those months, and we say that tells you an awful lot about her as a person. How devious she is.

“We say you should take that into account when you are considering the evidence in this case.

“You have spent a long time listening to witnesses from the Countess of Chester who you may think were doing their best to care for sick children entrusted in their safekeeping by worried and anxious parents.

“With one notable exception, the doctors and nurses who cared for (Child K) during her very short life did so to the best of their abilities and used their considerable skill and knowledge to maximise her chances of survival.

“The one exception to that, of course, is sitting in the dock.”

He said defence accusations of sub-optimal care at the Countess of Chester and questioning whether Child K should have been born there rather than a specialist hospital amounted to “throwing the mud of incompetence at the doctors and hoping some would stick” with the “underlying suggestion that Lucy Letby was being scapegoated”.

Mr Johnson added: “We say that the events that define (Child K’s) time at the Countess of Chester are best described as criminal, not sub-optimal. And these are criminal because the ill fortune that befell (Child K) was a result of the deliberate acts of Lucy Letby.”

Turning to the defendant’s Facebook search for Child K’s surname on a late Friday night in April 2018, Mr Johnson said: “The truth is, ladies and gentlemen, is that Lucy Letby had a fascination with the babies she had murdered and attempted to murder, and with their families. She took pleasure in her murderous handiwork.”

The Crown say Letby interfered with Child K’s breathing tube on two further occasions – the final time at the nursing handover to the day shift when Letby is said to have called for help.

Mr Johnson said: “(Child K) did not move her own tube on the third occasion so how on earth did it move? It was moved by the child murderer in the dock who wanted to get some credit for saving (Child K).

“She was making it look like (Child K) was habitually moving her own tube to cover her tracks, what she had done earlier.”

Addressing the jurors, Ben Myers KC, defending, said: “If what Dr Jayaram says is true, what would you do? What would you do?

“You are a senior consultant and one of the leads for the unit, and you believe someone is killing babies and trying to hurt them. What would you do? You would tell the management and if they dragged your heels you would tell the police. It’s not rocket science.

“Dr Jayaram said ‘we didn’t have the training’. Utterly ridiculous.

“You are expected to swallow that by him and the prosecution. Pathetic. A child would know what to do.

“If Dr Jayaram saw what he claims he saw and really thought what he claims he thought, he would have called the police and got her out. The only sensible explanation for him not doing that is because events were not as he said they were.

“Dr Jayaram’s evidence is, we say, an insult to the collective intelligence of everyone in this courtroom. We say it’s ridiculous and it’s unbelievable.

Letby became tearful in the dock as Mr Myers went on to say: “Miss Clancy (junior counsel) and I are here to defend Lucy Letby and that is what we will do. Standing up for her when no-one else is going to do that.

“For this to be a fair trial and for there to be a fair outcome on the evidence, that comes comes down to you ladies and gentlemen. It is you who decides.

“We say the medical evidence and general circumstances to this allegation do not get us close to be sure of Lucy Letby’s guilt.”

Mr Myers suggested that Child K was “very unwell and very fragile” and should not have been treated at the Countess of Chester.

He said she did not get the expert care she needed and that blame was since “shunted” on to the defendant.

There was “not a jot of evidence” that Letby had anything to do with the second alleged tube interference “apart from being nearby”, while the only evidence over the final alleged displacement at shift handover was that she called for help when the tube slipped.

Mr Myers said the Facebook search for Child K’s surname “does not make her guilty” as the defendant told them she searched for all sorts of people, including those not related to her convictions, and that a pattern of searches had not been established.

He urged the jury not to use the defendant’s previous convictions to “beef up a fundamentally weak case”.

He said: “We say if Lucy Letby was not convicted of those other offences, do you really think we would be here right now on this evidence. Plainly, we say ‘no way’.”

The trial continues on Tuesday when the jury will be sent out to consider its verdict.