Advising with empathy and experience

Inquiry into Lucy Letby killings will have power to force witnesses to give evidence


Witnesses will be forced to give evidence at the inquiry into how Lucy Letby was able to murder seven babies, the health secretary has announced, in a move demanded by victims’ families.

Health secretary, Steve Barclay, announced the inquiry would be put on a statutory footing after mounting criticism that it lacked the necessary powers to compel people to give testimony under oath or force the disclosure of documents.

Lawyers for the victims’ families argued it was important that former and current staff of the Countess of Chester hospital trust, where Letby worked as a neonatal nurse, should be forced to appear.

Letby became only the third woman alive to be handed a whole-life jail term on 21 August when she was sentenced for murdering seven babies and trying to kill another six.

Ministers initially insisted that the inquiry should be non-statutory, meaning witnesses could decline to give evidence, so that it could reach its conclusions more quickly.

The inquiry is expected to cover the broader context of events at the trust, including the handling of concerns raised by some doctors in the years leading up to her arrest. Governance procedures and measures undertaken by regulators and the wider NHS are also likely to be scrutinised.

Steve Barclay said he had wanted the nature of the inquiry to be “shaped by the families” and statutory status had been granted after discussions with them.

No judge has yet been appointed for the inquiry and its terms of reference have not been finalised.

A statutory inquiry is, under law, held under the terms of the 2005 Inquiries Act, giving its chair significant extra powers, such as the ability to compel witnesses to give evidence in person, or submit material.

Under the act, only ministers from either the UK government or devolved nations can establish a statutory inquiry, and it can be done only as a response to a limited set of events such as the mass loss of life or serious failures in health and safety or regulation.

Ministers can also, as in this case, convert another type of inquiry into a statutory one. When this is done they have a duty to make a statement to parliament as soon as possible, setting out who will chair the inquiry and form its panel, and the terms of reference.

Steve Barclay said: “The crimes committed by Lucy Letby are truly harrowing. This statutory public inquiry will aim to give the families the answers they need and ensure lessons are learned.”

One of the doctors who raised concerns about Letby to senior managers at the Countess of Chester hospital, Dr Ravi Jayaram, told ITV News: “I’m glad this is going to be a public inquiry because no stone will be left unturned and questions that need to be asked will be asked and the answers will be found, unlike in a non-statutory inquiry where questions that will cause difficult or embarrassing answers won’t get asked.”