Lucy Letby inquiry should be livestreamed to stop conspiracies, families say

The Lucy Letby inquiry should be livestreamed to the public to prevent the spread of “grossly offensive” conspiracy theories, lawyers for the families of her victims have said.

The inquiry, which will begin on September 10 and be held at Liverpool Town Hall, will look into how the nurse was able to murder babies on the Countess of Chester’s neonatal unit in 2015 and 2016, the conduct of others at the hospital and the culture in the wider NHS.

Letby, of Hereford, was sentenced to 14 whole life orders after she was convicted of murdering seven babies and attempting to murder six others, with two attempts on one of her victims.

A preliminary hearing for the inquiry, chaired by Lady Justice Thirlwall, was held at Chester Racecourse on Thursday when submissions on whether the hearings should be publicly broadcast were heard.

Peter Skelton KC, representing families of six babies, said Letby’s crimes continued to be the subject of conspiracy theories online.

He described the theories as “grossly offensive” and “distressing” for the families, who he compared to relatives of school shooting victims in the US.

He added: “One of the most effective antidotes to those theories and the damage they cause will be to see and to hear the people involved in the hospital give a true and comprehensive account of the facts.”

He said a submission by lawyers representing the hospital, which said a livestream might make witnesses less inclined to speak with candour, was “extraordinary”.

He said: “All the staff working at the hospital are public servants, they have a moral obligation to give a true and complete account.”

Richard Baker KC, representing some of the other families, said his clients had suffered “an unimaginable harm in unimaginable circumstances”.

He said: “Their desire in this case is for change and so that others do not experience what they have experienced.”

But, he said, they were “saddened” and “concerned” at the suggestion the lack of transparency might continue.

Andrew Kennedy KC, representing the Countess of Chester, said the hospital wanted to provide “as much assistance” to the inquiry as it could.

But, he said there was a “high level of anxiety” from staff at the prospect of giving evidence which was livestreamed.

He said: “Our desire, and no doubt the inquiry’s desire, is for witnesses to be able to speak frankly and with candour and anything that can be done to facilitate that should be done.

“If a witness is concerned about livestreaming then if we can remove that concern we can, we would suggest, encourage candour, frankness and openness.”

Lucy Letby court case
The hearing was told that 188 requests for information had been made to individuals from the Countess of Chester hospital including midwives, nurses, doctors, managers and members of the hospital board (Jacob King/PA)

Rachel Langdale KC, counsel to the inquiry, said court orders that prevent the identification of a number of people involved, including all of the babies, had to be complied with.

Lady Justice Thirlwall said she would give her decision on whether the hearings would be broadcast at a later date.

She started the proceedings, which lasted just over an hour and a half, with a pause for reflection for the “lives lost”, “injuries sustained” and “suffering” of the families.

The hearing was told 188 requests for information had been made to individuals including midwives, nurses, doctors, managers and members of the hospital board.

Ms Langdale said detailed questions had been asked about involvement in the care of particular babies, suspicions and concerns about Letby, mortality rates and other issues.

She added: “Questions are asked about why suspicions were not reported to police sooner.”

Experts had been instructed to look at cultural issues in the NHS, the implementation of recommendations made by previous inquiries and issues around whistleblowing, Ms Langdale said.