LONDON — A British nurse has been charged with several counts of murder as part of an investigation into infant deaths at the neonatal unit of a hospital in northwestern England, the police said in a statement on Wednesday, in a case that has haunted the community for years.
The nurse, Lucy Letby, 30, had worked in a hospital in Chester and was arrested twice, in 2018 and 2019, in relation to the deaths. Both times, she was released without further action, but she was taken back into custody on Tuesday and now faces eight charges of murder and 10 charges of attempted murder, according to the Cheshire Police. She was expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The police said that the arrest resulted from an investigation into deaths of babies at the Countess of Chester Hospital between March 2015 and July 2016.
Dr. Susan Gilby, chief executive of the hospital, said in a statement released on Tuesday that the development was of “serious concern.”
“We are fully supportive and respectful of the judicial processes, and as such will not be making any further comments at this stage,” she added. “Our thoughts continue to be with all the families involved.”
In late 2016, the hospital opened an investigation into the unexpectedly high number of deaths in its neonatal unit, and a subsequent report found that “the arrangements for investigating neonatal deaths must be strengthened.”
The report detailed how, beginning in June 2015, pediatric doctors in the hospital had “become concerned about a higher-than-usual number of neonatal deaths on the unit, several of them being apparently ‘unexplained’ and ‘unexpected.’” While the review made few conclusions, it did find that doctors had begun to note similarities in the deaths of the infants, and it recommended “a thorough, external independent review of each neonatal death between January 2015 and July 2016.”
By 2017, the police had become involved. In a statement released this week, Detective Chief Inspector Paul Hughes, who is in charge of the inquiry, said that the arrest of Ms. Letby came after more than three years of investigative work.
“In that time, a dedicated team of detectives” has been working on the “highly complex and very sensitive case,” he said in comments published by a local news outlet, Cheshire Live. Those officers had been “doing everything they can as quickly as they can to identify what has led to these baby deaths and collapses,” he added, noting that Ms. Letby was cooperating with the inquiries.
Ms. Letby was interviewed in 2013 by another local outlet, The Chester Standard, as part of the newspaper’s appeal for funding for a new neonatal unit. At that time, Ms. Letby said that she had worked on the neonatal unit of the Countess of Chester Hospital since graduating in 2011 and that she had also worked there as a student nurse during her training.