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.

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  • I found it a bit odd last night that one of the journos (admittedly in a live feed) said that there was “no evidence to charge Miss Leighton…..well at least not yet”.

    It struck me as very odd thing to say and it probably deserved some kinda apology. Even by way of clarification. I must emphasise that he was speaking “live to the studio” and may have mis-spoke but I thought that “at least not yet” could be construed as a bit unecessary.

  • wild turkey

    ah, a few minutes to kill before this evenings episode of Dr Who.

    firstly, turgon another articulate, humane and well argued post. thank you.

    when i first arrived here over 30 years ago i was struck by the preponderance, both nationally and locally, of the white trash ethos of the MSM printed press. incredible, ill informed opinionated bullshit. and 30 years on it not only persists. it flourishes

    And opinion is really the lowest form of human knowledge. It requires no accountability, no understanding.

    The best journalism is to my mind, explicitly or implicity, empathetic. For is empathy is a far higher form of knowledge. It requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world. a world which the journo mentioned by FJH clearly does not inhabit.

  • Mark

    You have to wonder about the kinda instructions the likes of SkyNews give to their roving reporters before they head out on the beat .

    SkyNews reporter Mark Stone was the guy who doorstepped / accosted Mr Jefferies as the story broke . His aggressive approach seemed to startle Mr Jefferies who looked shocked more than anything else as Stone started to spit the questions at him .

    Mark Stone’s stock seems to have risen since Mr Jefferies was arrested .He fronted Sky’s day time programme immediately after the London riots and now he’s one of their main men in Libya .

  • Rory Carr

    I also noted the delicate dance that the Crown Prosecution seemed to be doing when commenting publicly upon the sudden reversal of certainty over Nurse Leighton’s guilt in this matter. When Herself asked me why they appeared to be acting in so curmudgeonly a fashion when the poor woman was so clearly innocent, I replied that this was a defensive mechanism to protect themselves from any subsequent action for damages for false arrest in the future. Creating uncertinty over Ms Leighton’s innocence is all part of the strategy in such defence and to hell with any negative effect it might have upon the poor woman’s life.

    One the measures of Ms Leighton’s innocence, for me at least, came in the thanks which she offered to the staff at Styal Prison where she had been held for six weeks. This display of kindness by the prison staff, who have an uncanny knack of separating the sheep from the goats, as it were, in these matters, was telling for me. I recall how a mentally ill woman, Judith Ward, whom I knew, and who was so shamefully railroaded for one of the most horrific IRA actions in England, the M62 coach bombing, in 1974 spending 18 years in prison as a result, recorded after her release her gratitude at prison staff who, also convinced of her innocence, were kind in the extreme to her.

    But if you want to dwell on some of the horrors of great injustices done to innocent people by lazy or malevolent police and prosecutors I suggest you have a google for the West Memphis 3, three young men who were wrongfully convicted (and one at least sentenced to death) for the gruesome murders of three younger children in Arkansas. If you access the official support site you will find footage of outside the court and the father of one of the murdered boys who initially had been so gung-ho for the death penalty but had later come to a realisation of the convicted men’s total innocence. His speech outside the courthouse (where he names one of the murdered boy’s fathers as the real culprit) is quite uplifting. Here is a man, reformed of his demons of booze and drugs and redneck ignorance, his eyes open and his shoulders braced to take on any responsibility that comes his way. Fearlessly outspoken and quietly stubborn and confident of his case. The young men themselves are also a wonder of transformation from what they had been prior to their ordeal.

    You may also be justifiably pissed off by the sneaky little mechanism employed by the state whereby, in order to obtain their release, the men were obliged to accept guilt. It is all quite complicated and worth a thread or two on its own so best really to look it up.

  • Rory Carr

    P.s. Turgon,

    You seem to have confused the surnames of Ms Leighton and Asst Chief Const Sweeney in the latter part of your piece. A simple mistake but best needs correction.

  • Turgon

    Rory,
    Thanks fixed now.

  • Fearglic

    guilty until proven innocent.. i saw the reports today on Sky and BBC the “reporters” made a point of saying that even though she is innocent (ie there’s no evidence to prove her guilt) she is not out of the woods yet.. That the police are looking for more evidence to prove she’s a killer. reminds me of the Birmingham Six…

  • slappymcgroundout

    This is something new?

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Presumed-Guilty-British-Mandarin-Paperback/dp/074931253X

    http://openjurist.org/957/f2d/652/buckey-v-county-of-los-angeles

    Ms. Buckey “lost” (by the way). Was no conspiracy. Just that worst combination of circumstance(s), the DA needed to be reelected, the not so worthy alleged child abuse investigation/treatment center needed a way out of bankruptcy, a reporter and a local network affiliate understanding that child sexual abuse sells, and sells big, and a police department that did not understand the difficulty with the paranoid schizophrenic complainant (she had originally accused some other human of having sexually abused her child, so apparently, the prior false claim didn’t get to weigh in the balance, and that’s how bad it was). And that’s all it took. No grand conspiracy, everyone simply looking after their own interest and doing their job (and so they would have told you at the time).

  • Rory Carr

    That’s the trouble, Fearglic, the more the authorities know that their prisoner is innocent, that they have cocked up completely, either through incompetence, over-zealousness, simple human error or the malevolency of one or more of their functionaries, then the more they will go to pains to protect themselves from being exposed for the charge of being incompetents/zealots/wicked bastards or just prone to error like the rest of us.

    If some poor innocent has to suffer continued doubt about their innocence that is just too bad, or even if. as in the case of Judith Ward which I referred to earlier, through sheer wickedness a poor addled creature whom the police know for certain is innocent, is sent to prison for life, then ‘Tough’.

    All the while then the real culprit is safe as houses as he knows that the police are never going to look for evidence to convict him as that would only expose their own guilt. And, of course in the absence of a true exposure of a clearly guilty party the suspicion will always remain around the one initially in the frame.

    Neat.

  • slappymcgroundout

    Here is another one, with an opinion that I’ve unfortunately had to use in some of the cases that I’ve handled:

    http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/mcmartin/michaelsdecision.HTM

    Make sure you read the sampling of the “interrogation” of the children by the cops, there at the end as an appendix. God save us. Oh, and my favorite part of the “interviews”:

    Investigator (I): Oh, come on, if you just answer that you can go.
    P.I.: I hate you.
    Investigator (I): No you don’t.
    P.I.: Yes I do.

    And here is the NY Times post-conviction write-up:

    http://www.nytimes.com/1988/08/03/nyregion/ex-preschool-teacher-sentenced-to-47-years-in-sex-case-in-jersey.html

    For a bonus freebie, so the Sky Fairy deniers get the point:

    Ms. Michaels, who showed no emotion when sentenced, told the judge that she was confident her conviction would be overturned on appeal.

    ”I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer, especially for those bearing false witness against me,” she said. ”I am prepared to face whatever is ahead.”

    And from a later NYT piece noting the subsequent dismissal of the matter:

    Ending one of the most sensational child sex-abuse scandals in the nation, prosecutors today formally dropped their case against Margaret Kelly Michaels, the former day care teacher who spent five years in prison before her 1987 conviction was overturned on appeal last year.
    ***
    Bubbly and radiant, Ms. Michaels told reporters at the West Orange office of her lawyer, Alan L. Zegas, that she harbored no bitterness, planned to marry her fiance, Jay Romano, a freelance journalist, have children and become a writer, starting with a book about her ordeal.

    “I am greatly relieved to have this terrible nightmare finally over,” she said. “And above all, I praise God for the returning of my rightful freedom and good name and the right to live a quiet and decent life.”

  • Framer

    It seems that the nurse was effectively interned as the courts accepted that there was insufficient evidence to run a case against her but as the police were expecting more to arrive she could be put in jail.

    The cops are now furiously covering up saying absurd things like the case is more extensive than the IRA’s Manchester bombing! They must be very nervous and are presumably going to waste thousands of police hours going round in circles and over-investigating to prove their non-culpability.

  • catchfridaymedia

    A good article, and you are right in your comments.

    I write regularly as a journalist for official wire, and recently wrote

    1) Rebecca Leighton has been the victim of NHS narcissism within nursing management, and the real culprit lies within the NHS’s failure to implement health and safety.
    http://www.officialwire.com/main.php?action=posted_news&rid=31594

    2) Rebecca Leighton Still Vilified By Stepping Hill Hospital And The Nursing & Midwifery Council
    Nurse Suspensions Rife in NHS Management Blame Culture
    http://www.officialwire.com/main.php?action=posted_news&rid=31594

    I suggest that Rebecca was both a victim of staff cuts within Stepping Hill and bullying within the organisation.

    3) Rebecca Leighton

    I said it all along that Rebecca Leighton was innocent until proven guilty, and I believed that she was innocent, but newspaper journalists wanted to make a story that would make people buy their newspapers.

    I don’t know who it was who spread the hate story around her facebook page, could it I wonder have been NewsCorps?

    Getting back to poor Rebecca who has been the victim of extreme prejudice from sociopathic NHS management, who carry out disciplinary hearings that are procedually flawed, and bullying beyond a scale that the public understand.

    The NHS management at Stepping Hill hospital appear to be prime maggots, exercising high levels of narcissism to scapegoat this poor nurse.

    There is terrible corruption at the heart of the NHS that wants to pick on staff who have a heart for people, and there is a degree of insensitivity within NHS Boards, that is unparelled.

    Who are the real culprits in these murder allegation at Stepping Hill?
    http://www.officialwire.com/main.php?action=posted_news&rid=181307

  • Is there a hard copy record of the evidence used for the miscarriage of justice, or is it a heresay/hear say and fabricated prosecution … for whatever reason to curtail the search for the honest truth?

  • Turgon

    I have updated the article with further information from the BBC

  • “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.”

    This is a very peculiar statement. It suggests that they charged and were hoping to get more evidence later. You either have sufficient evidence for a case to answer at the time of the charge or you dont and if you dont have a case to answer, you dont charge.

    I think the idea of giving the defendant police bail during the investigation of such a high profile case must have clouded the judgment of the officers who took the decision to charge.

  • duffmac

    Found this amongst the usual idiotic comments on Yahoo

    { I’m an ICU nurse in the US and this doesn’t sound right. It sounds like the hospital may be trying to hide something. Normal saline usually comes in 500ml or 1000ml bags. Do you know how much insulin …you would have to put in that much fluid to get some ones blood sugar level to drop low, a lot?

    Her coworkers would have noticed her drawing up insulin in a large syringe instead of an insulin needle because that is not standard practice. If she used an insulin needle they would have noticed because it would have taken her a very long time and she would be using insulin needles at a high rate and the pharmacy would have noticed that they were going through a large amount of insulin for the unit she worked on.

    The second thing is “The alarm was raised in July when a higher than normal number of patients were reported to have “unexplained” low blood sugar levels amid fears saline solution had been contaminated with insulin.”

    This is strange as well because the first conclusion would not be to think that normal saline had been contaminated with insulin. If people were dying at a higher than normal rate it would be to assess what disease process is common in most of these people and if that disease process leads to low blood sugar or if these patients had gotten infected ( from surgery for example) and then went septic which can cause low blood sugar.

    Even if the saline was being contaminated at a factory and she was unknowing hanging insulin, insulin in solution expires fairly quickly and would have had little effect on patients’ blood sugar levels if it was hanging around in a factory a few weeks before being shipped to the hospital.]

    This Hospital was known for a high number of deaths and a very dysfunctional management style – Staff dreaded going in there as the only way out was being taken out of the mortuary by the undertakers . http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article7039285.ece

    Traumatised Stockport Nurse in Hiding http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/traumatised-stockport-death-charge-nurse-in-hiding-2349327.html

    Graham Pink Infamous Whistleblower at Stepping Hill Hospital …no real change 21 years later http://www.labournet.net/ukunion/0803/karen3.html

    http://www.pr-media-blog.co.uk/category/pr/

    ” PR agency, Bell Pottinger North, has the mammoth task of handling the hospital’s crisis communication. Associate Director, Richard Clein said: “The reality is that in this situation the police will take the lead on comms – our job is to ensure our messaging is consistent and to ensure we are reiterating the statement that the hospital is a safe place. It’s about reassuring patients and staff as well.”

    Exploring the classic procedures of crisis management, there will be a process of being readily accessible to the media, showing empathy for all involved, delivering an appropriate level of communications that reinforces what the hospital does well, and laying down clear preventative processes for the future. In this instance, sending out a chain of press releases about the hospital’s goals and achievements is not the answer. People will not forget this easily, therefore a broad ranging, strategic plan is necessary to rebuild reputation. ”

    Plenty of management speak ?

    http://menmedia.co.uk/manchestereveningnews/news/health/s/1423847_stepping-hill-hospital-blasted-for-not-acting-as-patient-lost-a-stone-in-17-days?rss=yes

    Police ” source ” saying there was a thieving culture at the Hospital http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2033846/Nurse-scapegoat-suspected-hospital-poisonings-says-lawyer-considers-suing-wrongful-arrest.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

    ” ‘Some were taking medicines for personal use or for use at home with their families while others were even selling it on. ” but they’ve two men under suspicion , one rumour is that it’s a Locum

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2033846/Nurse-scapegoat-suspected-hospital-poisonings-says-lawyer-considers-suing-wrongful-arrest.html#ixzz1X6YtkmXr