Lucy Letby: Quiet ‘geek’ who became a killer feared she would never have children of her own

Lucy Letby as a child
Lucy Letby as a child

To some, she was a quiet, geeky student. To her friends, the one who loved to salsa. To her family, she seemed the devoted daughter, and to many of her patients she appeared to be a dedicated, caring nurse.

There were many sides to Lucy Letby, but no one who met her could have guessed she was a conniving and manipulative murderer, let alone one of Britain’s worst serial killers.

Even the police officers who questioned the 33-year-old at length about the mysterious deaths of newborn babies at the Countess of Chester’s small neonatal unit struggled to explain what in her character had led to murderous intent, describing her as “beige”.

Yet beneath this veneer was a woman who described herself as “evil”, and was afraid she would never have children of her own.

As soon as detectives started to investigate they noticed a pattern – Letby was a “constant malevolent presence” when tragedy struck. And she was the “only common denominator” connecting the deaths, frequently falsifying medical records to “cover her tracks”, as prosecution counsel Nick Johnson KC would later tell the jury at Manchester Crown Court.

On searching her home they made a series of startling discoveries, including Post-It notes with scrawled messages that appeared to suggest both culpability for the deaths and possible motivation.

“I’m evil”, she had written in the privacy of her bedroom. “I did this.”

Another note suggested she had an abiding fear she might never find love. “Not good enough. I will never have children or marry,” she wrote. “I will never know what it’s like to have a family.”

Lucy Letby
Lucy Letby

Shocked family and friends

Among those who knew her, however, nobody wanted to believe that a seemingly dedicated, caring and friendly nurse could be responsible for such horrors, deliberately setting off to work each day to inflict unimaginable pain on the helpless infants for which she was supposed to be caring.

The sense of shock at the arrest and prosecution of the 33-year-old was felt particularly deeply among friends and family in her home town of Hereford who had watched the “geeky” woman become the first of her family to go to university and begin her career as a nurse.

To them she was “Lucy”, the “career-focused” girl who only wanted to become a nurse and care for others, choosing her A-levels to maximise her chances of entering the profession.

A neighbour of her parents, John and Susan, who had watched Lucy growing up in the same semi-detached house in the suburban cul de sac to which they brought her home from the local hospital as a newborn, said shortly after her arrest: “I just truly can’t believe it. She was a good little girl. I watched her grow up next door from the moment she was born. She was a delight.”

The shock extended to her fellow nursing students at the University of Chester, where after leaving school she spent three years, at the same time completing a placement at Liverpool Women’s Hospital.

Several remembered Letby as part of a group who “weren’t girly girls who always partied, but who were all very focused on their studies and loved it”.

Working at the Countess of Chester Hospital

By the time she was arrested in a 6am police raid on July 3, 2018, Letby had been working at the Countess Hospital since her graduation in neonatal nursing in 2011.

In her spare time, she helped raise funds for the hospital’s charity to build a new unit. Its Babygrow Appeal went on to raise more than £2 million and in March 2013 a profile of Letby appeared in the local paper, The Chester & District Standard.

She was also pictured smiling and holding up a baby garment in the Countess’s internal newsletter, for which she spoke about her work.

She said: “My role involves caring for a wide range of babies requiring various levels of support. I enjoy seeing them progress and supporting their families.”

On social media, she liked the pages of various campaigns for sick children, as well as the Channel 4 show about a maternity unit One Born Every Minute.

Lucy Letby
Lucy Letby

‘She is not capable’

On hearing the news of Letby’s arrest, Rebecca Johnson, one of her first-year classmates at university, struggled to believe she could be responsible for harming any babies.

“I just know she could not do anything like that,” said Ms Johnson, from Ellesmere Port.

Janet Cox, a colleague of Letby’s on the neonatal unit who subsequently attended her trial alongside Mr and Mrs Letby, was one of many stunned at the charges. A week after the death of Baby I on October 31 2015, for which the jury found Letby responsible on Friday, August 11 although this could not immediately be reported – she had posted a photograph of her and Letby laughing and posing for pictures at a wedding.

In another, taken in December 2016 – shortly after Letby had been removed from clinical duties – she and Ms Cox are seen hugging and smiling while wearing Christmas jumpers from Primark.

“Letby’s her best friend,” said Ms Cox’s partner before the trial began in October 2022. “She has known her for years and she knows she is not capable of doing anything like the things she was accused of.”

Lucy Letby
Lucy Letby

‘Trust me, I’m a nurse’

Jenny Jones was another friend and colleague who posted photographs of herself with Letby and other nurses at a time when babies were dying in mysterious circumstances.

These included one of a smiling Letby with 14 other women at York station, posted on June 8, 2015 – the day of the first alleged attempted murder.

Nothing about her stands out as unusual in these pictures.

Jordan Sands, who knew Letby through a former girlfriend, said: “She was quite awkward and geeky, but she seemed like a kind-hearted person.”

It wasn’t just colleagues who were stunned at Letby’s arrest. She had told at least one anxious parent: “Trust me, I’m a nurse.”

And many of them did.

One mother, from Buckley, North Wales, told how Letby had helped her after she gave birth to her premature son.

“I could not have asked for a more caring and helpful nurse. She helped me give my son his first bath. All I can say from my experience is that she was a great nurse,” said the woman, now 34.

Letby certainly appeared to care.

A court sketch of Lucy Letby giving evidence at Manchester Crown Court
A court sketch of Lucy Letby giving evidence at Manchester Crown Court

Facebook searches of dead babies’ families

Following the then still unexplained deaths of babies, and over the months that followed, she would – sometimes obsessively – search for their families on Facebook, for any indication of how they were coping.

But her behaviour in front of parents still struggling to absorb the horror of their babies’ deaths went beyond clumsiness into the outright inappropriate – such as repeatedly recalling happy memories of Baby I’s first bath when her parents were still weeping over her 11-week-old body as they washed her for the last time.

The prosecution told the court that in fact, she appeared to be relishing the moment.

And while she may have given the impression of being quiet, caring and dedicated, Letby’s behaviour in the immediate aftermath of some of the deaths or sudden collapses of the babies was questionable, to say the least.

The court was told that Letby went salsa dancing with her Countess colleague and friend Minna Lappalainen within hours of, as it later emerged, trying to kill Baby F by injecting him with insulin. And this was just 24 hours after she murdered his twin brother Baby E.

That evening Letby messaged Ms Lappalainen, asking:

Letby was at her salsa class when a friend updated her about Baby F’s condition, describing him as “a bit more stable”, but adding that staff were concerned and “doing various tests” to try to identify the cause of his hypoglycemia.

She replied: “Oh dear. Thanks for letting me know. Wonder if he has an endocrine problem then. Hope they can get to bottom of it. On way home from salsa with Minna. Feel better now I’ve been out.”

Letby lived with Ms Lappalainen in Chester between January and June 2015, before moving back into the hospital’s Ash House accommodation block. Her move came shortly before the deaths of babies in the hospital’s paediatric unit began.

There followed a period between November 27, 2015, and February 17, 2016, where no attempts or murders appear to have taken place.

Just over a month after this pause came to an end, Letby bought a three-bedroom semi-detached for £180,000 in Blacon, a suburb on the edge of the city, two miles from the extensive Countess campus, where she held a Prosecco and vodka housewarming party for colleagues.

Pictures of killer’s bedroom

At her new home, the bedroom seemed almost like that of a young teenager, rather than a woman in her early thirties.

Photographs taken by police showed a pink and white spotted dressing gown hanging on a door, cuddly toys on the bed, including Winnie-the-Pooh and Eeyore, with a picture saying “leave sparkles wherever you go” hung on the wall.

Lucy Letby's bedroom
Lucy Letby's bedroom

The upstairs landing had framed pictures of her young godchildren and cousin, while her fridge was decorated with photographs of her parents, as well as a handwritten card describing her as “number one godmother”. There was also a child’s bedroom, which she had not got around to redecorating.

She had two cats, Smudge and Tigger, and had written herself a birthday card “from” them, reading: “Happy Birthday Mummy.” In court, she sobbed and wiped away a tear when asked about them by her barrister, Benjamin Myers KC.

children's bedroom
A children's bedroom at Letby's new home was not redecorated

There appeared to be an emotional immaturity about Letby. She had no boyfriend at the time of the deaths and none in her recent past, it seemed, but had developed a “close” friendship with – some described it as a crush on – a married registrar at some point after she joined the neonatal unit. They would text each other frequently, go on walks together, have coffee and even enjoy day trips to London.

Nursing handover sheets

More disturbingly, police also found 257 nursing handover sheets in a bin bag in the garage of her Chester home and her parents’ house. She had even kept one such handover note from June 1, 2010, her first day of work as a student nurse, as an apparent souvenir in a box decorated with roses.

Letby claimed she had accidentally taken home the documents, which should have been destroyed as confidential waste, in the pocket of her scrubs.

Her neighbours in Chester, where she liked to watch Coronation Street, Strictly Come Dancing and Love Island when off duty, were unable to reconcile the personable young woman next door with the killer she really was.

One lady who lived opposite Letby’s modern detached red brick house told The Telegraph: “She was always so friendly. She always had a smile when she said hello. She seemed like such a nice person. I can’t understand at all why she would do something like this.

“I’ve been following the case and there doesn’t seem to have been any explanation given for her motive for doing these terrible, terrible things.”

Another neighbour said: “She was always pleasant and always had time to say hello. She came across as a very hard-working girl getting on with her life. What she was accused of doing seemed so unbelievable. I would never have had her down as a bad person.”

Lucy Letby
Lucy Letby

It is a common theme that many of those who studied or worked with Letby are reluctant to talk about her at all.

Ms Lappalainen refuses to discuss their friendship or indeed whether she began to have any suspicions about her behaviour at the time.

One former nursing colleague told The Telegraph she had been instructed by her current employer “not to speak to anyone about the case”, while another said: “I don’t feel comfortable talking about it or making any comment.”

Back in Hereford, friends of the family said her parents John, 76, and Susan, 62, had been left devastated.

After all, they more than anyone were fooled by the public image presented by their daughter of a caring, devoted nurse, whose only concern was her patients’ welfare.

There had been no disguising their pride for their only child’s progress as she made her way from student to qualified nurse, fulfilling her schoolgirl ambition.

Lucy Letby
Lucy Letby

In December 2011, Letby, who had suffered from an overactive thyroid gland since she was 11 – with symptoms including anxiety, fatigue and difficulty concentrating – gained her BSc in child nursing.

Her mother and father, described by neighbours as a modest, professional couple, posted a notice in the Hereford Times, reading: “We are so proud of you after all your hard work. Love Mum and Dad.”

The strong bond between Mrs and Mrs Letby and their daughter, who they had helped move into her new home in Chester, became evident when the jury was read a WhatsApp exchange with Dr Alison Ventress, a work colleague.

Dr Ventress was considering relocating to New Zealand and was encouraging Letby to come with her, but she would have none of it, replying: “Not brave enough to up and leave everything. I couldn’t leave my parents they would be completely devastated. Find it hard enough being away from me now and it is only 100 miles.”

Lucy Letby
Lucy Letby

The trial

Letby, who gave evidence for 14 full days dressed in a smart, all-black trouser suit, under the anxious gaze of her parents – who had moved to accommodation in Manchester for the duration of the long trial – consistently denied ever wanting to harm any babies.

“No, never,” she said repeatedly when confronted with the details of the allegations. “I am there to help and care, not to hurt.”

Many wondered why a woman who had fulfilled her childhood ambition would go on to maim and kill vulnerable babies.

Even hardened police officers were unable to explain it, other than attributing it to a thrill and sense of excitement at being at the centre of drama on the ward.

Det Supt Paul Hughes, one of the senior investigating officers in the case, said: “We would like to know that and ultimately the only person who can answer that in respect of why is Lucy Letby.”

Officers described her as “beige”, with nothing “outstanding or outrageous” about her, but, in the words of Det Chief Insp Nicola Evans, there was “clearly another side that no one saw and that we have unravelled during this investigation and trial”.

Britain’s most prolific child murderers before Lucy Letby
Britain’s most prolific child murderers before Lucy Letby

Ms Evans and her colleagues were not taken in by Letby’s wholesome act.

“Letby was operating in plain sight,” she said, adding: “She abused the trust of the people around her, not just parents that had trusted her with the care of her babies but also the nurses she worked with and the people she regarded as friends.

“She was an average nurse, a seemingly normal 20-something-year-old doing what she was doing in her career and with her friends. But clearly there was another side that nobody saw.”

With their guilty verdict the jury indicated that they had been persuaded by the mass of circumstantial evidence presented to them by the prosecution, enough certainly to overcome the apparent absence of any tangible motive.

As prosecuting barrister Mr Johnson told them: “While people do forget things in a busy neonatal unit… we all make mistakes, but it’s the timing of the ‘errors’, isn’t it? It’s the pattern of the errors. It’s the power of circumstantial evidence.”

The jury agreed, convicting the seemingly nice, quiet girl who gave everyone the impression she had only ever been devoted to the care of others.

In the end, they took the words she scrawled on green Post-It notes to be true.