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Lucy Letby was jailed for life for the murder of seven babies and the attempted murder of a further six
By Nick Triggle
Health correspondent

The inquiry into how nurse Lucy Letby was able to murder seven babies will now have greater powers to compel witnesses to give evidence.

In a significant move, ministers upgraded the independent inquiry after criticism from families of the victims that it did not go far enough.

The inquiry, ordered after Letby was found guilty this month, was not initially given full statutory powers.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said he had listened to the families.

He said he had decided a statutory inquiry led by a judge was the best way forward and “respects the wishes” of the families.

Mr Barclay said the key advantage was the power of compulsion.

“My priority is to ensure the families get the answers they deserve and people are held to account where they need to be,” he added.

He said an announcement about who would chair the inquiry would be made in the coming days – ministers have already said it will be a judge.

Richard Scorer, a lawyer who is representing two of the families, said he thought they would be pleased.

“We’ve always said we wanted an effective inquiry – an inquiry capable of compelling people to give evidence under oath and to compel the production of documents.

“It looks like we’ve got the statutory inquiry we need and that is really important,” he added.

Baby serial killer Lucy Letby

Letby, 33, was given a whole life sentence for murdering seven babies and attempting to kill six more while working at the Countess of Chester Hospital neonatal unit between 2015 and 2016, meaning she will spend the rest of her life in prison.

She was found not guilty on two attempted murders and the jury could not reach verdicts on six others during the 10-month trial.

The conviction made her the most prolific child serial killer in modern British history.

The BBC has since been told hospital bosses failed to investigate allegations against Letby and tried to silence doctors.

The hospital also delayed calling the police despite months of warnings that the nurse may have been killing babies, according to doctors who worked at the hospital.

The unit’s lead consultant Dr Stephen Brearey first raised concerns about Letby in October 2015.

No action was taken and she went on to attack five more babies, killing two.

Hospital management had demanded doctors write an apology to Letby and told them to stop making allegations against her.

The senior managers involved went on to work in other high profile roles in the NHS, prompting calls for tighter regulation of NHS managers.

Unlike doctors and nurses there is no national regulation of managers.

The move to make the inquiry statutory is being seen as crucial to finding out exactly what happened and what lessons should be learnt.

Although some have pointed out statutory inquiries can take longer to hold – something ministers had originally said was the justification for making the inquiry non-statutory.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice has proposed new laws to try to force criminals to attend sentencing hearings.

Letby is one of a number of high-profile offenders who have refused to appear.

Powers already exist to compel people to attend but Ministry of Justice sources say they are not often used.

A Ministry of Justice source said clear legislation to allow judges to increase sentences by two years was likely to encourage them to do so.

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