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MPs Plan To Keep Pushing For Statutory Inquiry Into Lucy Letby Murders

(Alamy)

5 min read

A number of MPs remain steadfast in their insistence that a statutory inquiry should be held into the murder of seven babies by Lucy Letby, legally obliging witnesses to put what they knew about circumstances surrounding the case onto government record.

Former neonatal nurse Letby was on Friday found guilty of murdering seven babies and attempting to kill six others in Countess of Chester Hospital between 2015 and 2016. She was handed a rare whole-life order in a sentencing at Manchester Crown Court on Monday, meaning she will never be released from prison.

Last week goverment committed to launching a non-statutory public inquiry, which will investigate the circumstances behind Letby’s murders, how it was handled by the NHS and the actions taken by the regulators, but there are mounting calls from MPs across parties to harden the terms of the investigation and make it statutory.

Former justice secretary Robert Buckland told PoliticsHome he believed a statutory review should be announced by the Government, where it would have legal powers to compel witnesses to come forward and give evidence. 

He pointed to the public inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire NHS scandal as a precedent, which began in 2010 and was eventually published in 2013. It found that between 400 and 1,200 people had died under poor care in the foundation trust as a result of staff shortages, unclean wards and a lack of treatment from professionals.

“It doesn’t have to be a Judge chairing, it-could be a lawyer with clinical case experience or a clinician. They key is power to summon witnesses and for documents to be produced,” he continued.

Calls for a statutory inquiry have been echoed by families of Letby's victims, as well as current ministers and former cabinet ministers.

However, a former health secretary told PoliticsHome they could see why the Government had not committed to one yet. They claimed its legal powers have already "been exercised” by the courts.

“I can see the reason why the Government have not gone for statutory, because effectively all facts are out there because of the court case, because any statutory inquiry would only have the same powers of the court, and the court case was ten months long," they explained. 

“Obviously I can see and understand the politics. There's a perfectly good sort of pure logic reason not to, but you've also got families campaigning with a very emotional case.” 

Downing Street has not ruled out a statutory inquiry into Lucy Letby's murders. A Number 10 spokesperson told reporters that the government would look at which type of inquiry would put the case on the best “footing”. 

Labour MP Rachael Maskell, who sits on the health select committee, told PoliticsHome she believed a statutory inquiry would put the case on the “right footing”.

“There are certainly questions that have got to be asked of the authorities, for instance what happened to all of the whistleblowers and why were they dismissed so readily?," she said.

“And these kinds of issues really are of national importance, because we're seeing this kind of conduct towards whistleblowers in so many situations."

Another Labour MP and health committee member, Paulette Hamilton, called for a new independent body to be established to vet NHS managers.

"In this case, failures were tragically overlooked because the management did not completely comprehend the situation, so I totally agree that a public inquiry should be held to ensure that this does not happen again," she told PoliticsHome. 

"I also believe that an independent body must be established to ensure that managers are adequately vetted, just as our doctors and nurses are."

Minister for Children Claire Coutinho told Times Radio a non-statutory inquiry would deliver justice much swifter than a statuatory one. 

“Personally, I think in this case a non-statutory inquiry makes more sense so we can have that speed of understanding what has happened very quickly," she said. 

“But one of the things that we are doing, as I said and I think it is the most important piece of work, is talking to parents about what they want to see and we will be putting forward terms of reference on that basis.”

Former health minister Stephen Hammond said he recognised the non-statutory inquiry may be “quicker”, but added the issue is the ability to compel witnesses, which it will not be able to do.

“I think the case is indeed horrific and her not coming back to the Dock is appalling," he told PoliticsHome.

“I think the issue is one of the ability to ensure witnesses attend – if there is a suspicion that some will not attend then it will need to be statutory.”

At Monday's sentencing, Letby became only the fourth woman ever to be handed a whole-life order. She exercised a legal right to refuse to be present in court when she was handed her sentence, which has sparked calls for the law to be changed to force murder convicts to be present at a sentencing. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the Government has been looking into ensuring those convicted of "horrendous crimes" must attend court and face their victims. 

"I think it's cowardly, that people who commit such horrendous crimes, do not face their victims and hear firsthand the impact that their crimes have had on them and their families and loved ones," Sunak told broadcasters on Monday.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk confirmed that his department was looking at how it could undo the loophole.

“Lucy Letby is not just a murderer but a coward, whose failure to face her victims’ families – refusing to hear their impact statements and society’s condemnation – is the final insult. We are looking to change the law so offenders can be compelled to attend sentencing hearings,” he said.

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