Lucy Letby inquiry given powers to compel witnesses to give evidence

The inquiry into Lucy Letby’s crimes is to be made statutory, meaning witnesses can be forced to give evidence.

The Health Secretary announced the decision after meeting families in Chester who had been bereaved as a result of the killings.

Steve Barclay said following his meeting: “The crimes committed by Lucy Letby are truly harrowing, and my thoughts remain with the families of her victims. Following her conviction, we announced an inquiry and said the nature of this inquiry would be shaped by the families.

“Having now discussed this with the families, we will launch a full statutory inquiry giving it the legal powers to compel witnesses to give evidence.

“This statutory public inquiry will aim to give the families the answers they need and ensure lessons are learned.”

A chairman of the public inquiry is expected to be announced in coming days, with terms of reference yet to be set out.

Lucy Letby was found guilty of the murder of seven babies in her care at the Countess of Chester Hospital

Lucy Letby was found guilty of the murder of seven babies in her care at the Countess of Chester Hospital – Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

When the Government first announced the inquiry, it said it would be non-statutory, meaning it would not have been able to compel witnesses to attend or force evidence to be handed over.

Ministers said at the time that a non-statutory inquiry was often much quicker, enabling the truth to be uncovered sooner.

But families repeatedly called for the inquiry to be put on a statutory footing, amid concern that NHS managers accused of failing to listen to whistleblowers may have been able to evade questioning.

Officials said moving to a statutory footing will mean the inquiry will have legal powers to compel witnesses to give evidence, including former and current staff of the Countess of Chester Hospital Trust.

It will also mean that evidence must be heard in public, unless the inquiry chair decides otherwise.

Officials said Mr Barclay had been clear from the outset that he wanted the families impacted in the case to have the opportunity to engage with and shape the scope of the inquiry.

The statutory inquiry will investigate the wider circumstances around what happened at the Trust, including the handling of concerns and governance. It will also look at what actions were taken by regulators and the wider NHS.

The Government said it would publish the inquiry’s terms of reference – setting out the scope of the work – in due course.

Ms Letby was found guilty of the murder of seven babies in her care, and was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Last week, Rishi Sunak said he wanted the inquiry to be led by a judge. The Prime Minister said that only a senior legal figure with a “strong, independent voice” would be able to “get to the bottom of what happened”.

Previously, Claire Coutinho, the minister for children, said she believed it made “more sense” to hold a non-statutory inquiry because it was likely to provide answers more quickly.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, was among those advocating for a statutory inquiry.

“I think it should be a statutory inquiry and I’ll tell you why. One because that’s what the victims’ family want and after what they’ve been through, I think that is a really important consideration,” he said last week.

“Secondly, what a statutory inquiry gives you is the power to order documents, to order witnesses to come forward. So we get the fullest, proper, comprehensive analysis of what went wrong here.”

‘No stone will be left unturned’

Dr Ravi Jayraram, one of the doctors who helped catch Letby by raising concerns to senior bosses, told ITV News on Wednesday: “I don’t understand why, right at the start, there was a rush to say it was going to be non-statutory.

“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.”

Richard Scorer, head of abuse law and public inquiries at Slater and Gordon, which represents two of the families, said: “We welcome the Government’s announcement that the Lucy Letby inquiry will be upgraded to a statutory inquiry. It is essential that the chair has the powers to compel witnesses to give evidence under oath, and to force disclosure of documents.

“Without these powers, the inquiry would have been ineffectual and our clients would have been deprived of the answers they need and deserve.

“This inquiry is essential for the parents of Letby’s victims, but it is also important for all of us. We all need to be sure that the NHS delivers the best possible care, that hospital management is accountable and responsive to concerns, and that whistleblowers are treated fairly.

“We cannot let what occurred at the Countess of Chester Hospital to ever happen again. This inquiry must lay bare the facts of what happened but it must also be the start of much needed change.”

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