It’s an outrage that killer nurse Letby was allowed to skulk in her cell rather than face grieving families in court

It is difficult to know where to start with the Lucy Letby case. First and foremost of course is the sheer, unimaginable horror of a woman trained to save and care for the tiniest and most fragile humans using her profession for the murder and attempted murder of 13 babies and, God alone knows, maybe many more.


Then there are the testimonies of the families read out in Manchester Crown Court, in some instances by the parents themselves, robbed by the actions of one evil and perverted killer of ever seeing their child grow up, walk, speak, laugh, sing, ride a bike, swim, dance, make friends, go to school, open Christmas presents...


They spoke for the first time with seering and achingly moving honesty and both police and journalists who heard them were in tears. I remember when I joined the Express in Manchester in 1966 talking to our late friend Norman Luck of the experience he had while covering the Moors Murders trial. “Most of us were in floods,” he said, “reporters, court officials, jury members, even the cops.”


But what I find so offensive is the fact that Letby, who should have forfeited any right to choice, was allowed to stay in her cell rather than stand in the dock listening to the families whose lives she had destroyed. Or to hear Mr Justice Goss hand her 13 whole life terms. Earlier this year Thomas Cashman, the murderer of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel also took the coward’s way and chose to be absent from sentencing.


Choice? NO, NO, NO! There should be no choice. They gave up that luxury when they committed their ghastly crimes. Then on the radio comes the voice of Rishi Sunak saying he agrees and that something has to be done ‘in due course’. If the law could be changed overnight to stop protesters annoying the King in his gold coach on the way to his coronation, the same urgency could be and must be applied to this, a far more serious issue.


And then there is the role of the raft of hospital managers who resisted attempts by fellow nurses, doctors and consultants to highlight what seemed so blindingly obvious: that Letby was on duty at the time of every single death. They were ignored and indeed the management even moved to have her treated as a victim. Rightly, there is to be an independent inquiry which I hope will lead to the prosecution and, if guilty, the subsequent jailing of anyone guilty of inaction when all the alarm bells were ringing so loudly.


While on the subject of hospital management, I am deeply troubled by the case of a friend, Jim Kirby, 84, whose wife of 55 years suffered a brain stem injury two years ago after a fall. She had been walking their dog, alone, one evening near their cottage in the Dorset countryside. It took three hours for the ambulance to arrive and when she finally got to hospital Maureen, a former fashion writer, was taken straight to intensive care.


After three months Maureen, whose life expectancy was judged to be a few  months at most, was moved to a care home. Maureen is still alive but unable to feed or wash herself. The decision was taken with no reference to Jim or the family GP and for the last two years he has been fighting his way through a labyrinth of roadblocks seemingly erected by the NHS to deliberately discourage people, who have paid into the system all their lives, from getting the NHS or local authority from paying or at least contributing to end of life palliative care.


‘It’s just one bloody acronym after another,’ says Jim, ‘most of them start with the words Integrated Care but they are never integrated and do not care.’ But watch this space: Jim isn’t taking No for an answer and has the same view of vast, wasteful, expensive layers of management whether they be running the whole NHS monolith, the Countess of Chester Hospital Trust or indeed the BBC.


Or the Express under Little Lord Stevens.


Much has been written recently on the great Michael Parkinson. He was a proper journalist who learned his trade the old fashioned way, on a local paper, in Manchester and then the Express in London. He and I occasionally umpired an annual charity cricket match, mentioned here recently. But the last time we spoke at length was after Robin Esser’s memorial service at which Parky gave a very good speech.


The two of them were from Yorkshire of course and had done national service together in Egypt during the Suez crisis and, given their employment, were tasked with managing news output, the pair of them with the rank of captain. “Robin always insisted he was the youngest captain in the British Army but now I find out he was nearly two years older. It’s taken me since 1956 to find out the truth. The bugger!”

22nd August 2023