Lucy Letby suggested to police that her ward was understaffed, jury told

<span>Letby told police the ‘skill mix was probably not right’ on the neonatal unit at Countess of Chester hospital, the court heard.</span><span>Photograph: Cheshire Constabulary/PA</span>
Letby told police the ‘skill mix was probably not right’ on the neonatal unit at Countess of Chester hospital, the court heard.Photograph: Cheshire Constabulary/PA

Lucy Letby suggested the hospital ward where she worked was understaffed as she denied attempting to murder a newborn girl, a jury has heard.

The nurse told police the “skill mix was probably not right” on the neonatal unit at the Countess of Chester hospital when a two-hour-old baby suddenly deteriorated in February 2016.

Letby is accused of trying to murder the infant, known as Baby K, by tampering with her breathing tube moments after the infant’s nurse left her side in the early hours of 17 February 2016. The 34-year-old, who has already been convicted of murdering seven babies and attempting to murder six others, is on trial at Manchester crown court where she denies attempted murder.

One of Letby’s colleagues, Dr Ravi Jayaram, told the jury this week that he walked in on Letby standing beside Baby K’s incubator as the infant suffered a “life-threatening” collapse. He told jurors there was no evidence the nurse was doing anything to help the newborn – who had been born 15 weeks premature two hours earlier – and that the alarms that should have been sounding were silent.

Jayaram said he believed Letby had deliberately displaced Baby K’s endotracheal tube because the infant would have been immobilised and too weak to move it herself.

In police interviews played to the court on Friday, Letby said she did not recall Baby K’s deterioration and denied moving the infant’s breathing tube or silencing her alarms.

Asked whether there was a reason Jayaram might be mistaken, she told the officers: “I don’t know, he obviously seems to remember it quite specifically, in terms of timing, and I don’t. It’s a shame if he felt uncomfortable that he didn’t raise that sooner, with me personally.”

Asked later by Det Con Danielle Stonier why Jayaram “felt uncomfortable knowing you were on your own with [Baby K]”, Letby replied: “I’m not sure, he never raised any concerns to me, or any other member of staff.”

Another detective asked Letby whether she agreed that it “looked suspicious” that she “wasn’t doing anything to help” as the newborn’s oxygen saturation levels plummeted. She replied: “I don’t recall.”

Letby added: “I don’t know why a monitor would be silenced … I don’t remember noticing that the tube was displaced.”

The court was told that on the day Letby is alleged to have displaced Baby K’s breathing tube, she texted a colleague saying there were four other members of staff looking after 14 babies. Asked during a police interview in November 2020 whether she was suggesting that the unit was understaffed, Letby said: “Yes and the skill mix was probably not right for babies of that gestation.”

Stonier asked Letby whether five nursing staff would be sufficient generally on the unit. Letby replied: “Baby K would need one to one, which would have left only four people looking after 13 babies.”

The nurse spoke slowly and quietly in the footage played to jurors, her words at times barely audible in the packed courtroom. Letby sat expressionless in the dock flanked by three security officers on the final day of the prosecution evidence.

She was interviewed a total of 30 times between her first arrest on 3 July 2018 and 10 November 2020, the court heard.

The trial continues.