ONE of the country’s most senior judges will lead the inquiry into serial killer nurse Lucy Letby’s crimes, the Health Secretary has said.

Steve Barclay told MPs Lady Justice Thirlwall has “many years of experience” as a senior judge and senior barrister.

The inquiry will have legal powers to compel witnesses, including former and current staff of the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, where Letby worked and killed, to provide evidence.

Letby, 33, was last month sentenced to a whole-life termfor murdering seven babies and trying to murder six more.

Making a statement to the House of Commons on Monday, September 4, Mr Barclay said: “This inquiry will examine the case’s wider circumstances, including the (hospital) trust’s response to clinicians who raised the alarm and the conduct of the wider NHS and its regulators.

“I can confirm to the House that Lady Justice Thirlwall will lead this inquiry.

Lady Justice Thirlwall.

Lady Justice Thirlwall.

“She is one of the country’s most senior judges, currently sitting in the Court of Appeal and with many years of experience as a senior judge and a senior barrister before that.”

He added: “I have raised with Lady Justice Thirlwall that the families should work with her to shape the terms of reference.

“We hope to finalise these in the next couple of weeks so the inquiry can start the consultation as soon as possible.

“I have also discussed with Lady Justice Thirlwall the families’ desire for the inquiry to take place in phases so it provides answers to vital questions as soon as possible.”

Both the Health Secretary and Shadow Health Secretary West Streeting commended Countess whistleblowers such as Dr Stephen Brearey and Dr Ravi Jayaram for speaking out, with Mr Streeting condemning the fact that colleagues were forced to apologise to Letby for raising such concerns.

City of Chester MP Samantha Dixon said: "Terrible crimes have been committed in the Countess of Chester Hospital, in my constituency – my hospital.

"I would like to thank the Secretary of State for meeting and listening to the families at the heart of this tragic case and for instituting a statutory inquiry into the circumstances surrounding these crimes.

"Serious questions about NHS accountability and governance have arisen, which the inquiry will need to address.

"Given the scope of Cheshire Police's Operation Hummingbird [the police operation into Letby's crimes] has broadened, what reassurance can the Secretary of State offer my community about our hospital?"

The Secretary of State, in response, firstly paid tribute to the Labour MP's work with families and staff "in response to these terrible events".

He added it was important that patients using the Countess of Chester Hospital were reassured in terms of the measures which were being put in place.

He added what was "striking" about his discussion with family members impacted by Letby was they were "at pains to point out" how some of the staff at the Countess had been "exceptional in their care" and had "treated them extremely well".

Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Justin Madders said: "There's no doubting the impact this has had on the whole community.

"As a constituency MP, when I was briefed by the management at the time these issues first emerged, I can say there was a very different picture painted to the one we are seeing today.

"It has been a huge concern that management involved at the time have gone on to work in other parts of the NHS, seemingly with approval from NHS England.

"I hope the Secretary of State is going to look into that."

In response, Mr Barclay said it was important the issue of the "revolving door" would be addressed.

Alyn and Deeside MP Mark Tami said he welcomed the Secretary of State's "change of heart" on the statutory inquiry. He added: "I think that it vital to get the answers that all the parents deserve.

"It is also vital that any other parents who have concerns about the treatment of their child when Letby was working at Chester and Liverpool have those concerns fully investigated or reinvestigated by the police."

He asked Mr Barclay is the Home secretary was prepared to make available any resources police require to make this happen. In response, Mr Barclay said specific funding had been provided for Cheshire Police for Operation hummingbird, but he would relay the point to the Home Secretary.

Weaver Vale MP Mike Amesbury said he, MPs across the House and the victims of the "horrendous" crimes wanted to ensure that managers who "managed to recycle themselves to leadership positions" face "stronger regulation and accountability".

Mr Barclay responded that this was a "central concern of the families" he had met, families who had felt "fobbed off when concerns were raised".

The hospital saw a significant rise in the number of babies suffering serious and unexpected collapses in 2015 and 2016.

Letby’s presence when collapses took place was first mentioned to senior management by the unit’s head consultant in late June 2015.

Concerns among some consultants about Letby increased and were voiced to hospital bosses when more unexplained and unusual collapses followed, her trial at Manchester Crown Court heard.

But Letby was not removed from the unit until after the deaths of two triplet boys and the collapse of another baby boy on three successive days in June 2016.

She was confined to clerical work but registered a grievance procedure, which was resolved in her favour, and was due to return to the unit in March 2017.

The move did not take place as soon after police were contacted by the hospital trust.

Tamlin Bolton, solicitor at Switalskis Solicitors who currently represents the families of seven of Letby’s victims, said: “It is fair to say that the horrific crimes committed by Letby have led to many more questions requiring vital answers so that the families involved can begin to process the events that have taken place.

"Given what is in the public domain so far around the circumstances of Letby’s crimes, it is imperative that the families affected are heard if they are to have the highest confidence in the process. That’s why we are delighted that the families will be working with Lady Justice Thirlwall to help shape the terms of reference of the inquiry, which will specifically consider the Trusts response to the clinicians who raised the alarm about Letby.

"We hope that the Trust demonstrate honesty and co-operation during the process and, ultimately, take accountability for what has happened. We understand how difficult this inquiry will be for the families involved and will continue to support them through the inquiry and with their civil claims against the Trust.

"We can only hope that this statutory public inquiry will result in robust systems being implemented to ensure nothing like this can happen again and to restore any kind of trust in the NHS.”