DOMINIC LAWSON: Would Lucy Letby have killed those infants if there had been CCTV in the ward?

DOMINIC LAWSON: Would Lucy Letby have killed those infants if there had been CCTV in the ward?

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DOMINIC LAWSON: Could the presence of CCTV in the ward have prevented Lucy Letby from harming those babies?

By Dominic Lawson for the Daily Mail | Updated: 04:02 EDT, 28 August 2023

There exists a variety of individuals who believe in Lucy Letby’s innocence. She was unjustly convicted of the murders of seven premature and highly vulnerable babies, as well as the attempted murders of six others, at the Countess of Chester Hospital. This group includes not only the usual mix of amateur sleuths and conspiracy theorists, but also some of her former nursing colleagues and friends.

This sentiment arises not solely due to Letby’s convincing facade of normality and outward niceness, a phenomenon identified long ago by writer Hannah Arendt as the “banality of evil.” It also stems from the fact that the evidence against her, although substantial and extensive, was purely circumstantial. As Liz Hull, who attended nearly every day of the ten-month trial, wrote in the Mail: ‘At the start, I must admit that I, too, was not convinced that Letby had committed the alleged acts. Nobody witnessed her harming any baby.’

Had the police not discovered a note in Letby’s own handwriting in her apartment, along with stolen medical notes detailing the deaths of her victims, which read: ‘I killed them on purpose… I am evil, I did this,’ I wonder if the jury would have been able to reach a unanimous decision. And then the parents of Letby’s victims, who have endured so much, might have had to face the agonizing ordeal of a retrial.

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However, there is a crucial aspect that none of the exhaustive commentary on this matter has addressed, and it could have significantly eased the situation: the installation of CCTV cameras in the unit where Letby worked. This realization struck me while reading the cross-examination of Dr. John Gibbs, one of the doctors who opposed hospital managers that refused to even entertain the possibility that Letby could be responsible for the unexplained deaths.

Dr. Gibbs testified that when managers attempted to reintegrate Letby into the neonatal unit against the doctors’ wishes, they demanded that it only occur if CCTV was installed in each room. The CCTV was never installed, and neither did Letby return to active care (or, in her case, harmful actions). Dr. Gibbs’ point, although obvious, has broader implications beyond the Letby case.

While an inquiry will be conducted into the entire distressing affair to ensure that ‘nothing like this ever happens again’, followed by official recommendations, a radical overhaul of medical protocols is not necessary. The issues at the Countess of Chester stemmed, in part, from the inadequate adherence to existing guidelines regarding the recording of ‘unexplained deaths’.

More importantly, this is not merely about optimizing NHS practices; it’s about crime detection. This is the primary reason why the UK is home to an estimated five million surveillance cameras (including those used by citizens to safeguard their homes). Hospitals’ ‘public areas’ are already outfitted with CCTV cameras for reasons including apprehending offenders, providing evidence for legal actions, and ensuring a safer environment for staff.

However, it seems that the practice of installing CCTV cameras in neonatal units (where the patients themselves are unable to complain) is not widespread in this country. Contrastingly, many Australian hospitals have embraced this practice, although for emotional reasons — to cater to parents temporarily separated from their newborns — rather than strictly for security.

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In Sydney, the pioneering Royal Prince Alfred Hospital introduced a webcam system, NICVIEW, into its neonatal intensive care unit in 2018. This system enabled parents to see their newborns through live-streamed video, addressing the emotional needs of families.

Considering the Letby case and the evident management shortcomings, there is likely to be a significant demand in the UK for a similar system. And why not? While some nurses might not welcome it, it’s hard to argue against such a system when it’s introduced with the best interests of newborns in mind.

Certainly, there are concerns regarding patients’ rights, but for parents genuinely concerned about their newborns’ well-being, the intrusion of such cameras seems reasonable. Of course, using cameras without parental consent is a different matter. Dr. David Southall, a specialist in babies’ breathing problems, demonstrated the potential benefits of covert video surveillance. He employed hidden cameras to uncover cases of abuse, ultimately leading to arrests.

The key point is that such measures serve to deter or identify criminal behavior that occurs within a medical context. The UK has amassed considerable experience in employing CCTV for justice, outweighing objections based on privacy.

As far back as 2009, New Scotland Yard revealed that CCTV was used in 86 out of 90 murder investigations over a year, aiding in solving 65 cases by capturing murder on film or tracking suspects’ movements. A more recent example is the Sarah Everard case in 2021, where CCTV evidence played a pivotal role in identifying the perpetrator.

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Perhaps, if Letby knew that the neonatal unit was monitored by CCTV, she might have been deterred from her actions. And if she hadn’t been, video evidence of her actions would have left little room for doubt.

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