Innocent nurses, landlords and trial by tabloid

I blogged some months ago about the case of Chris Jefferies who was landlord to Jo Yates. Mr. Jefferies was arrested over Ms. Yates’s murder and then became the target of frenzied media speculation. Essentially it seemed that he was a bit eccentric, had odd hair, was an elderly bachelor and, hence, must be guilty. He was also a leading Liberal Democrat and the local party representatives rapidly distanced themselves from him. After all that Mr. Jefferies was completely innocent and another man awaits trial for the murder.

Rebecca Leighton the nurse who was arrested over the deaths at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport seems to have faced a relatively similar trial by media. There was much comment on her lifestyle, the fact that she liked to go out partying and disliked doing 14 hour night shifts. This along her having multiple pictures on facebook in fancy dress etc. promoted a great media frenzy. There was even the ludicrous comment that she had recently been demoted. In reality she had been acting ward sister until the post was filled on a permanent basis. All this of course came remarkably close to “proving” she was an “Angel of Death.”

Now it seems that Ms. Leighton is completely innocent. The BBC are reporting that all charges against her were dropped yesterday: though the police spokesperson seemed rather churlish and more interested in defending his forces actions than accepting Ms. Leighton’s complete innocence.

Following her release from gaol, Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney said: “At the time that Rebecca was charged there was sufficient evidence in our view, and equally importantly, the view of the Crown Prosecution Service, to bring charges around contamination and theft.
“The (reason for the) decision to discontinue is that the evidence we had at the time has not built towards the crown court phase, so that we could bring a case at this point.”

The police said officers were in contact with Miss Leighton to guarantee her safety and “to try and help her back into the community”.

Ms. Leighton has released a statement through her solicitors:

“First and foremost I would wish to thank with all my heart all of those people who have supported me and have not given up on me and never doubted my innocence during this living nightmare.
“If it was not for the unerring love and support of my family, my mum Lynda, dad David and brother Darren, my fiance Tim, and all my friends, I do not know how I would have coped.
“I would also like to thank the members of the public who have also supported me and have believed in my innocence.
“I have been living in hell and was locked up in prison for something I had not done.
“Nonetheless, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the staff at HMP Styal for their love and support.
“It was so frustrating for me knowing that the person who has actually carried out these terrible acts is still out there.
“My life has been turned upside down. All I ever wanted to do was to pursue a profession in nursing and to care for my patients.
“I think it is unbelievable that anyone in the medical profession would ever put patients’ lives at risk.
“Finally I would like to thank my legal team, Mr Simon Csoka QC and Carl Richmond from Middleweeks Solicitors for their constant hard work in preparing my case. Their support was invaluable.
“I will not be speaking to the media tonight.
“I would ask that you all respect the right of my family and myself to privacy and allow us to get on with our lives.
“I have nothing else to say at this stage.”

Maybe one day the tabloid press will properly understand the concept of innocent until proven guilty. Hopefully Ms. Leighton will be able to get on with her life and profession. There is, however, more chance of the latter.

To update the article with more information from the BBC website:

It seems that the “evidence” against Ms. Leighton consisted of a damaged bag of saline and a bottle of antibiotic fluid which was contaminated with insulin, both with her finger or thumb prints on them. Anyone who knows anything about the NHS or has ever been in hospital will have seen that multiple people handle a given bag of fluid. Even if Ms. Leighton had hung up the bag or bottle it could very easily have been tampered with before or after she had done so. As it was there was absolutely no evidence that Ms. Leighton had done such a thing let alone that she had contaminated anything. Then it transpires that the bag of saline had not actually been damaged and that other contaminated items did not have her finger prints on them.

The idea that the above evidence was considered by ACC Sweeney worthy of the following statement is beyond belief: “At the time that Rebecca was charged there was sufficient evidence in our view, and equally importantly, the view of the Crown Prosecution Service, to bring charges around contamination and theft.”

A possibly more plausible explanation is her solicitor’s suggestion here from the BBC:

Her solicitor, Carl Richmond, said there had to be a scapegoat as there was “absolute chaos” at the hospital.
He said he got the feeling the hospital “could not function because of all the speculation”.
“I was imploring the police to bail her while they continued their inquiries but the decision was made to charge.
“They jumped the gun, though, and tried to build the case against her from there rather than the usual method of bailing her pending further inquiries.”

Mr. Richmond says that the ordeal has had a significant effect on Ms. Leighton:

Ms Leighton’s spell in custody had taken its toll both mentally and physically and that she was “in a bad way”.
“She is not the person she was,”

Mr Richmond said no decision had been made yet to sue police for wrongful arrest but Ms Leighton, her family and her legal team would meet as soon as possible to discuss the matter.

It is often difficult for people to sue the police for wrongful arrest but if the facts of the case are as they seem to be then one can only suggest that to most non legally minded people Ms. Leighton should gain significant compensation for what looks like a clear injustice.

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.