Experts baffled as to what drove Lucy Letby to kill

Experts baffled as to what drove Lucy Letby to become Britain’s most prolific modern child killer – even after the killer nurse herself admitted she was ‘evil’ in confession notes

  • Killer Lucy Letby wrote a confession note saying ‘I am evil. I did this’ 

Nobody but Lucy Letby knows what drove her to kill and attack premature babies in her care. Police found nothing in her background or upbringing, or any event that may have triggered her killing spree which began in June 2015.

Evidence that she became animated and excited after the babies’ deaths, enjoyed the drama of the emergencies when infants collapsed and was quick to tell her colleagues in texts when something unusual and tragic had happened on her shift, pointed to her revelling in the attention, they said.

Letby was psychologically assessed and deemed fit to stand trial, but this desire to be at the centre of a crisis could be a symptom of the mental disorder Munchausen’s syndrome, one leading criminologist told the Mail.

However, in the absence of a clear motive, Detective Superintendent Paul Hughes, who led the investigation for Cheshire Police, said he believed Letby’s ‘confession’ note provided the only explanation for why she became Britain’s most prolific child killer in modern times.

‘She clearly loves the attention, I think she loved the attention of a trial as well,’ DS Hughes said.

‘But if we are looking for why she’s done this, then to re-use her own words, “she is evil and she did this”. Without her telling us why, if we’re looking for why, then she wrote it down in that note.’ The green Post-it note was discovered in her diary when police searched her home after she was arrested in July 2018. It was headed: ‘NOT GOOD ENOUGH.’

Lucy Letby wrote in her diary: ‘I killed them on purpose because I’m not good enough for them and I am a horrible evil person. I don’t deserve Mum and Dad. World is better off without me.’

Undated handout photo issued by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) of a note found in the house of Lucy Letby

As well as writing, ‘I AM EVIL, I DID THIS’ in capital letters, Letby also scrawled: ‘There are no words. I am an awful person – I pay every day for that. I can’t breathe. I can’t focus. Kill myself right now. Overwhelming fear/panic. I’ll never have children or marry. I’ll never know what it’s like to have a family. NO HOPE.

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‘I haven’t done anything wrong. Police investigation forget slander. Discrimination. Victimisation. All getting too much everything taking over my life. Hate myself so much for what this has . . . I feel very alone and scared. What does the future hold. How can I get through it. How will things ever be like they used. HATE. PANIC. FEAR. LOST. I don’t deserve to live. I DID THIS. WHY ME. I killed them on purpose because I’m not good enough for them and I am a horrible evil person. I don’t deserve Mum and Dad. World is better off without me.’

Letby claimed the note was not a confession and that she wrote it after being moved off the unit, in July 2016, because she was struggling with being blamed for something she hadn’t done.

But the prosecution urged the jury to read it ‘literally’ and Mr Hughes said it was his view that Letby deliberately left the note for police to find. He said that, by May 2017, she was aware police were investigating and, although she had a shredder at her home address in Chester, she did not destroy the note, nor did she get rid of other incriminating papers, nursing handover sheets and medical documents, which were found stashed under her bed.

‘In my view, she wrote it down and left it for us to find,’ Mr Hughes said. ‘She knew the police were investigating, she knew that she’d been moved and therefore was not a criminal suspect, but a community suspect.

‘She knew her colleagues had been spoken to by the police.

‘It was in the newspapers in May 2017 that Cheshire Police were investigating the circumstances around neonatal mortality. She knew at some point we would be speaking to her, so either recklessly or intentionally she wrote it down to be found.’

Photo issued by Cheshire Constabulary of the front of a diary, along with a Post-it note which was found inside the diary, recovered from the home of Lucy Letby in Chester

Lucy Letby has a headshot taken while in police custody in November 2020

Mr Hughes said Letby was not stupid and speculated whether she left the notes because she wanted ‘notoriety’.

What her writing reveals about her state of mind 

Handwriting expert Adam Brand, who analysed Lucy Letby’s notes for the Mail, said her writing style was evidence of a ‘manipulative and dishonest’ individual.

Other features of her writing indicated that she could also be ‘charming’ and ‘kind’.

He said her style displayed traits of antisocial behaviour disorder – impulsiveness, dishonesty, rejection of discipline and manipulation – while it also showed she was capable of ‘integrating’ into society.

He said the handwriting in Letby’s 2016 diary, which was recovered by police, was ordered and appeared to be done by someone in control.

But it was in great contrast to the coloured notes, which were shown to the jury and appeared to be much more chaotic and disturbed. ‘Her writing shows she is a charming person who can do some terrible deeds,’ he said.

He likened Letby to Jeffrey Dahmer, the US serial killer who murdered and dismembered 17 men in 13 years. ‘He has been described as an integrated anti-social and I see her like that,’ he said. ‘She is somebody who can occasionally be very friendly, other times manipulative, secretive and cold.’

Mr Brand highlighted several ‘disturbances’ in her handwriting, although it wasn’t part of the prosecution case.

The way she had written HATE, PANIC, FEAR, LOST on the green note could be viewed as attention-seeking. It suggested she wanted to be listened to and not ignored, he said. The ‘continuous loopings’ on a yellow note showed she was obsessive.

The way her writing does not slant one way or the other is highly unusual and suggests she suffered ‘horrific’ mood swings and had difficulty fitting into a team, said Mr Brand.

The lack of consistency in the height of her letters also suggested she has self-esteem issues, while ‘hooks’ at the start of vowels was symbolic of evasiveness. Shaded boxes and grid doodles also signified repressed anger and that she felt trapped, he said.

‘She’s intelligent and articulate, she did well on her scores [as a nurse], she was good at what she did when she wanted to do it correctly,’ he added. ‘You could see that in the way she wrote her hospital records. Furthermore, you could tell the way she intentionally misled doctors on hospital notes just how smart she was.

‘To be able to mislead doctors into believing that a child was coming towards a collapse, to intentionally mislead clever doctors and colleagues. Did she want it [the note] found? Did she just want to write it down or did she just want to tell the world that she was evil, and she did this? Did she want the notoriety that she’s got? Without telling us why, then the motive was right in front of us for us to find.’

Asked whether he thought Letby became a nurse to kill or whether the profession gave her the chance to become a killer, Mr Hughes said: ‘I don’t think she went into nursing to kill children, but nursing gave her the opportunity to be around the most vulnerable in society. Once she saw what happened and the attention she received, that lit something inside of her that she continued with.’ Criminologist David Wilson said Letby’s desire to be at the centre of a crisis was indicative of the mental disorder Munchausen’s syndrome. ‘She is creating a crisis around her, which is a form of Munchausen’s,’ he said.

‘Extraordinary stories are being told about what happens when she is on shift. She’s saying, “Look at all the things that occur when I’m around.” ’ Mr Hughes said it was unclear exactly why Letby had targeted certain children, other than having the ‘opportunity’, perhaps because she was alone with them as their allocated nurse, or their parents had temporarily nipped away to get some sleep or food. But once she had ‘chosen’ a victim there had been a determination to harm and kill, he said. The same children were repeatedly attacked. Some died, others were saved only when they were moved to a different hospital.

‘[Once] she’s decided to attack a victim, she’s gone back to the same victim,’ he said. ‘So when she’s chosen, she’s got a determination to really try to kill them until she either does or circumstances change that stop her. She controls. Once she’s decided to do it, if the outcome is not what she’s wanted, she’s gone again and again and again to try to do it, which brings us back to her being controlling and manipulating.’

The officer agreed she was a ‘monster’ who not only killed her vulnerable victims, but also made them suffer. ‘Monster, it fits, because I can think of nothing worse,’ Mr Hughes added.

DCI Nicola Evans, the deputy senior investigating officer in the case, said being unable to tell the parents of Letby’s victims exactly why she had attacked their babies was ‘really hard and difficult’.

‘I couldn’t put my finger on what her motive was and, ultimately, only Lucy Letby can answer that,’ DCI Evans said. ‘She’s had the opportunity during the trial and her interviews, and has continually denied the offences.

‘It’s my view that she will continue to deny them, so we might never get that answer. Our objective was to tell the families what happened and one of the things we haven’t been able to do is tell them why. As a police officer, that’s really difficult.

John and Susan Letby, parents of Lucy Letby, arriving at Manchester Crown Court for their daughter’s murder trial, 21 October 2022

‘On a human level, everyone tries to figure out why and [says] there must be something in her background, or that’s happened to her, that’s led to these crimes. But I think that makes this more shocking, that we haven’t found anything that could point towards a reason why.

‘I’m not sure anything explains these crimes and I’m not sure there is anything we could have found that would lead me to understand why she’s done it because it’s so unimaginable.’

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