THE chair of the inquiry set up to examine events at the Countess of Chester Hospital during the time convicted killer nurse Lucy Letby worked there has made her opening statement.

The Thirlwall Inquiry was set up in the aftermath of 33-year-old former neonatal nurse Letby being convicted of the murder of seven babies and attempting to kill six more at the hospital's neonatal unit between June 2015 and June 2016.

The inquiry, Led by Lady Justice Kathryn Thirlwall, is due to begin in September 2024 – working around the ongoing Cheshire Police Operation Hummingbird, which continues to investigate events during Letby's career at the Countess of Chester Hospital and Liverpool Women's Hospital. The police force is also investigating potential corporate manslaughter at the hospital.

Letby was sentenced to whole-life orders for all 14 charges the jury found her guilty of on August 21. She has always denied the charges and has submitted an intention to appeal her convictions. Lady Thirlwall said she does not expect this appeal to be determined before spring 2024, "maybe later".

That appeal process will be concluded before a planned retrial on one of the attempted murder counts the first trial jury could not reach a verdict on. That retrial is currently due to take place in Manchester in June 2024.

Secretary to the inquiry, Lorna Yates, is currently seeking a suitable premises in Chester for the Thirlwall Inquiry to take place, it has been confirmed.

In her opening statement, Lady Thirlwall said: "Our work is in three parts. In brief, part A is about the experience of the hospital and elsewhere, of the parents of the babies named on the indictment.

"Part B considers the conduct of people working at the hospital, and how Letby was able, repeatedly, to kill and harm babies on the neonatal unit.

"Part C will look at the wider NHS, examining the relationships between the various groups of professionals, the culture within our hospitals, and how these affect the safety of newborns in neonatal units."

Referencing the case of serial killer nurse Beverly Allitt, who was sentenced to life in 1993 for murdering infants, and its subsequent inquiry, Lady Thirlwall said: "Everyone was determined that it would not happen again. It has happened again. This is utterly unacceptable."

Lady Thirlwall added a "wide-ranging" questionnaire has been sent to every hospital with a neonatal unit, to be completed by both the medical director and a senior, non-clinical manager. It includes questions about whether there is CCTV in the neonatal units – and if not, if consideration has been given to installing it in the light of the Letby case.

Those questions, Lady Thirlwall said, had been raised by parents.

Medical staff will also be surveyed, anonymously, in hospitals with a neonatal unit, for their views on the culture in their units.

At this stage, it is not known how long the inquiry will take to conclude.

Court orders preventing details of the first trial and the identification of babies in the indictment being published will be on the inquiry website and remain in force.

Lady Thirlwall added: "The parents of the babies who were murdered or suffered injuries, some lifelong, live with the consequences every day. On top of their grievous loss, they endured years of uncertainty, about what had caused death or injury. For some, uncertainty remains.

"All have made it plain to me that they want to do all they can to make sure that no-one else suffers as they do.

"With the help of the inquiry team, and all those who will contribute to the inquiry, I will do all I can to make sure no-one else suffers as they have.

"It is unconscionable that this situation would occur ever again."