Published by BBC NEWS - 30th August 2023
  • Published
Lucy LetbyImage source, Cheshire Police

The inquiry into how nurse Lucy Letby was able to murder seven babies will now have greater powers to compel witnesses to give evidence.

In a significant move, ministers upgraded the independent inquiry after criticism from families of the victims that it did not go far enough.

The inquiry, ordered after Letby was found guilty this month, was not initially given full statutory powers.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he had listened to the families.

He said he had decided a statutory inquiry led by a judge was the best way forward and “respects the wishes” of the families.

Mr Barclay said the key advantage was the power of compulsion.

“My priority is to ensure the families get the answers they deserve and people are held to account where they need to be,” he added.

He said an announcement about who would chair the inquiry would be made in the coming days – ministers have already said it will be a judge.

Richard Scorer, a lawyer who is representing two of the families, welcomed the government’s announcement.

“It is essential that the chair has the powers to compel witnesses to give evidence under oath, and to force disclosure of documents. Without these powers, the inquiry would have been ineffectual and our clients would have been deprived of the answers they need and deserve,” he said.

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said it was right the families’ wishes have now been taken into account, adding that “no stone can be left unturned in getting to the truth”.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said it was “vital that lessons are learnt by the NHS, its regulators, clinicians and leaders”.

“There are, of course, a series of questions that are being raised by the events in Chester and the inquiry will be best placed to establish the facts of these events and to draw conclusions and recommendations for the trust and the wider NHS,” he added.


Baby serial killer Lucy Letby


Letby, 33, was given a whole life sentence for murdering seven babies and attempting to kill six more while working at the Countess of Chester Hospital neonatal unit between 2015 and 2016, meaning she will spend the rest of her life in prison.

She was found not guilty on two attempted murders and the jury could not reach verdicts on six others during the 10-month trial.

The conviction made her the most prolific child serial killer in modern British history.

The BBC has since been told hospital bosses failed to investigate allegations against Letby and tried to silence doctors.

The hospital also delayed calling the police despite months of warnings that the nurse may have been killing babies, according to doctors who worked at the hospital.

The unit’s lead consultant Dr Stephen Brearey first raised concerns about Letby in October 2015.

No action was taken and she went on to attack five more babies, killing two.

Hospital management had demanded doctors write an apology to Letby and told them to stop making allegations against her.

The senior managers involved went on to work in other high profile roles in the NHS, prompting calls for tighter regulation of NHS managers.

Unlike doctors and nurses there is no national regulation of managers.

The move to make the inquiry statutory is being seen as crucial to finding out exactly what happened and what lessons should be learnt.

Although some have pointed out statutory inquiries can take longer to hold – something ministers had originally said was the justification for making the inquiry non-statutory.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice has proposed new laws to try to force criminals to attend sentencing hearings.

Letby is one of a number of high-profile offenders who have refused to appear.

Powers already exist to compel people to attend but Ministry of Justice sources say they are not often used.

A Ministry of Justice source said clear legislation to allow judges to increase sentences by two years was likely to encourage them to do so.

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