Tuesday 11 December 2018

Woman arrested on suspicion of murdering eight newborns

A police officer stands outside a house in Chester which is being investigated as part of the probe into the deaths of 17 babies Photo: Getty Images
A police officer stands outside a house in Chester which is being investigated as part of the probe into the deaths of 17 babies Photo: Getty Images

Lucy Pasha Robinson

A female healthcare worker in England has been arrested on suspicion of murdering eight babies and the attempted murder of another six babies, according to Cheshire Police.

The woman, who has not been named, was identified after an investigation of the neonatal unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital. Police launched the probe in 2017 following a "greater number of baby deaths and collapses than normally expected" between June 2015 and June 2016.

The woman's arrest yesterday morning represented a "significant step forward" in the investigation, according to lead investigator Detective Inspector Paul Hughes. But he cautioned enquiries were still "very much active and ongoing" at this stage.

The investigation originally centred on the deaths of 15 babies and six non-fatal collapses, according to police. But its scope has now widened to cover the deaths of 17 babies and 15 non-fatal collapses between March 2015 and July 2016.

Police have not confirmed whether the woman arrested was a doctor, nurse or other healthcare professional.

"This is a highly complex and very sensitive investigation and, as you can appreciate, we need to ensure we do everything we possibly can to try to establish in detail what has led to these baby deaths and collapses," said Det Insp Hughes.

"As a result of our ongoing enquiries we have arrested a healthcare professional in connection with the investigation. She was arrested earlier this morning on suspicion of murder in relation to eight of the babies and attempted murder in relation to six of the babies and is currently in custody.

"While this is a significant step forward in our enquiries, it is important to remember that the investigation is very much active and ongoing at this stage. There are no set timescales for this coming to a conclusion."

Police said the parents of the babies were being kept fully updated. "This is an extremely difficult time for all the families and it is important to remember that, at the heart of this, there are a number of bereaved families seeking answers as to what happened to their children," Cheshire Police said.

The hospital carried out a number of independent expert medical reviews into the deaths before calling in police.

Medical director Ian Harvey said: "Asking the police to look into this was not something we did lightly, but we need to do everything we can to understand what has happened here and get the answers we and the families so desperately want."

A report published in July 2016 by the UK's Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health found significant gaps in medical and nursing rotas and insufficient staffing for the provision of longer-term high dependency and some intensive care.

Police also searched a house near the hospital yesterday, arriving at 7am and erecting a tent outside.

A neighbour said a woman lived at the address and had moved in around 2015, but they did not know the woman's name.

She added: "She's a bit of an enigma, no-one seems to know her."

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