Britain’s most prolific baby killer in modern times is to spend the rest of her life in prison.

Firstly, it is important for me to preface this post by saying that the content within is purely intended to be thought provoking and linked in with the A Level Law content relating to sentencing offenders. By no means am I defending, justifying or condoling the abhorrent crimes committed by Lucy Letby.

The case is extremely complex as reflected in the fact that the trial lasted nine months in total. In this blog I intend to focus particularly on sentencing laws and how there were applied in this case.


Letby, originally from Hereford, moved to Chester to study nursing at the University of Chester, and upon graduating in 2011 took up employment at the Countess of Chester Hospital.

Countess of Chester Hospital, Women & Children unit (Alcock P 2023)

She finally qualified to work with infants requiring intensive care in 2015. At her trial, the court heard how Letby had told others that she found non intensive care work ‘boring’. The same year as her move to the unit, suspicious incidents involving the collapse and death of babies began to occur. When concerns were raised about her conduct, Letby was moved from night to day shifts and these incidents notably also changed from happening overnight to during the daytime.

Following a number of concerns being raised by staff, internal investigations and removing Letby from clinical work into a more admin role she was arrested on 3rd July 2018. After a lengthy and complex investigation by Cheshire Police, Letby was finally charged on 11th November 2020.

Her trial began at Manchester Crown Court on 10th October 2022 where Letby pleaded not guilty to 7 counts of murder and 15 counts of attempted murder. The trial lasted nine months and the court heard lengthy and detailed medical evidence. But it also heard distressing evidence from the victims’ parents who detailed the events surrounding the tragic incidents and the long term affects felt by them and their families.

It is hard to contemplate the full extent of the crimes Letby was accused of and the trial must have been emotionally distressing for all those involved.

Verdict and Sentence

On 18th August 2023 it was revealed that Letby had been convicted of a total of 7 murders and 6 attempted murders of babies under her care while she was working as a neonatal nurse. It was further revealed that the verdicts were not unanimous and delivered over a number of days. Reporting restrictions had been in place preventing this from being made public until all the verdicts had been returned. She was found not guilty of 2 counts of attempted murder and a verdict could not be reached on a further 6 alleged attempted murders. There is the possibility of an upcoming retrial for these charges.

UPDATE September 25th 2023

According to BBC news, the Crown Prosecution Service have decided to bring a retrial on an outstanding charge of attempted murder for one baby girl.

A provisional trial date has been set for 10th June 2024.

Mr Justice Goss was required to pass sentence on Letby. The automatic/mandatory sentence for murder is life imprisonment however, there are factors that can determine the minimum amount of time the convicted person will spend in prison before the possibility of early release on licence should the Parole Board determine the offender to no longer pose a danger to the public. Letby was given a whole life order and the possibility of early release was excluded from her in this case. This means she joins a list of 71 people who are currently in prison for the rest of their lives and will never be released. There have only ever been 4 women who have received a whole life order – Myra Hindley, Rose West, Joanna Dennehy and now Lucy Letby.

The guidance in relation to what meets the threshold for a whole life order is not particularly detailed. The Crown Prosecution service states that a whole life order should be applied if the offender was over the age of 21 at the time the crime was committed and the court considers that the offence or combination of the offence and one or more associated offences is ‘exceptionally high’.

Mr Justice Goss referred to these requirements in his sentencing remarks, noting that Letby was indeed over the age of 21 at the time the crimes were committed and that ‘By their nature and number, such murders and attempted murders by a neo-natal nurse entrusted to care for them are offences of very exceptional seriousness’.

It is for the judge in each case to give weight to aggravating and mitigating circumstances. The Sentencing Council has produced guidance regarding potential aggravating factors which can be taken into account when passing a sentence for the crime of murder. These are stated to include a significant degree of planning or premeditation and the abuse of a position of trust. Again, the judge appears to have taken this into account in his sentencing remarks stating that ‘The damaging impact of your actions on others working at that hospital, including those who numbered you as a friend, betraying their trust and creating upset and suspicion, as well as eroding confidence in clinicians and nurses generally, aggravates their seriousness.’

In terms of mitigating factors, Mr Justice Goss was quite clear and stated ‘There are no mitigating factors.’ Similarly, Letby’s defence barrister offered no mitigation on her behalf as she continues to maintain her innocence. Again, looking at the range of suggested mitigating factors contained in the Sentencing Council’s guidance such as self defence, lack of premeditation or a belief that the offence was an act of mercy, it is difficult to see how any of these could have been put forward in this case.

Section 142 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 sets out the purposes of sentencing for those aged 18 and over stating that a court must have regard to punishment, reduction of crime, reform and rehabilitation, protection, deterrence and the making of reparation. Reading the sentencing remarks, it is clear that the overriding factor taken into account when sentencing in this case was punishment for the offences committed and there is no mention of an aim to rehabilitate Letby. There is also a clear aim to protect the public but also it could be argued to protect Letby from reprisals.

The sentencing was also televised at the request of broadcasters. This is a relatively new initiative and seeks to help make the criminal justice system more transparent.

Links to the course:

This case and others like it inevitably attract alot of media and public attention with such sentencing hearings being broadcast (the actual sentencing of Letby can be found here). For those with an interest in how this area of law works, the A Level Law course givens them an opportunity to examine a range of sentence options including both custodial and non custodial options available to judges/magistrates when sentencing offenders. Students also consider these sentencing options with regard to how they meet the aims of sentencing. Evaluation is then made as to whether the types of sentencing do in fact meet the aims of sentencing. Students become familiar with the factors considered when passing senstence and how a judge/magistrate reaches their sentencing decision. When sentence is passed there may be possibility of appeal against the conviction and/or sentence and students examine the possible appeal routes available post conviction.

August 2023

UPDATED September 2023