A hospital nurse accused of murdering seven babies and attempting to murder 10 others was a “constant malevolent presence” in their care, a jury has heard.
Lucy Letby, 32, allegedly used various means to attack the youngsters, including insulin poisoning and injecting air into the bloodstream, while working at the Countess of Chester Hospital’s neo-natal unit.
On Monday, she went on trial at Manchester Court charged with the murders of five boys and two girls, and the attempted murders of another five boys and five girls between June 2015 and June 2016.
Jurors heard that Letby was said to have tried to kill some of the babies more than once before she succeeded.
Opening the prosecution case, Nick Johnson KC said prior to January 2015 the statistics for the mortality of babies in the neo-natal unit were comparable with similar units but over the next 18 months there was a “significant rise” in the number of deaths and serious catastrophic collapses.
A probe was launched by medics who were unable to find a cause but did notice one common denominator in all the cases – the presence on duty of nurse Letby.
Mr Johnson said: “Many of the events in this case occurred on the night shifts. When upon Lucy Letby was moved on to day shifts, the collapses and deaths moved to the day shifts.”
Mr Johnson said as medics could not account for the collapses and deaths, police were called in and conducted a “painstaking review”.
He said: “That review suggests that, in the period between mid-2015 and the middle of 2016, somebody in the neo-natal unit poisoned two children with insulin.
“The prosecution say that the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the evidence you will hear, is that somebody poisoned these babies deliberately with insulin. This was no accident.
“If we are right about that, the fact that there were two deliberate poisonings will help you when you are assessing whether the collapses and deaths of other children on the neo-natal unit were because someone was sabotaging them or whether these were just a tragic coincidence.
“We say the collapses and deaths of the 17 children were not naturally occurring tragedies. They were all the work, we say, of the woman in the dock, who we say was the constant malevolent presence when things took a turn for the worse.”
The prosecutor went on: “It is a complicated case by any measures. It concerns seven allegations of murder and allegations of attempted murder of 10 other children.
“We allege that sometimes Lucy Letby tried to kill the same baby more than once.
“Sometimes a baby that she succeeded in killing she did not manage to kill the first time she tried, or even the second time. And in one case even the third time.”
He said the defendant was born on January 4 1990 and was originally from Hereford.
Letby studied for her nursing degree at the University of Chester, he said, and at the time of the alleged events was a nurse at the Countess of Chester Hospital and had been so since she had qualified a few years earlier.
She worked throughout the period in consideration at the neo-natal unit and prior to her arrest was living at an address in Chester, the court heard.
Mr Johnson told the jury: “As you know we have 22 charges, 17 children. In all the cases Lucy Letby was either responsible for them as their designated nurse or she got involved with them despite not being their designated nurse.”
Letby, wearing a blue jacket over a black shirt, earlier pleaded not guilty to seven counts of murder and 15 counts of attempted murder on various dates.
Family members of some of her alleged child victims sat in the public gallery listening as the names of the children were read out during her pleas.
On the other side of the public gallery sat the defendant’s parents, John, 76, and Susan, 62.
A court order prohibits reporting of the identities of surviving and deceased children allegedly attacked by Letby, and prohibits identifying parents or witnesses connected with the children.
The prosecution opening will continue on Tuesday.