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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

Calls to force court appearances as Lucy Letby refuses to attend sentencing

Artist’s sketch of empty chairs in Manchester crown court after Lucy Letby refused to attend to hear the verdicts against her.
Artist’s sketch of empty chairs in Manchester crown court after Lucy Letby refused to attend to hear the verdicts against her. Illustration: Elizabeth Cook/PA

Lucy Letby has become the latest killer to refuse to attend their sentencing, amid calls for a new law to force criminals to face their punishment in court.

The 33-year-old nurse told the trial judge through her legal team that she would not appear in court for the remainder of the proceedings after she was found guilty of murdering seven babies.

Letby was convicted on Friday of killing seven newborns and attempting to murder another six on the hospital neonatal unit where she worked, making her Britain’s worst child serial killer of modern times.

It can now be reported that Letby refused to be present in court after the second batch of verdicts were returned on Friday 11 August following jury deliberations lasting almost 87 hours.

She had cried loudly in the glass-enclosed dock when the first guilty verdicts – for two counts of attempted murder – were returned three days earlier at Manchester crown court.

The trial judge, Mr Justice Goss KC, was told by Letby’s barrister, Benjamin Myers KC, that the defendant had said she had no intention of returning to her seat in the dock for the remainder of the proceedings.

The parents of her victims, many of whom cried and gasped as the verdicts were returned, filled the public gallery every day of the jury deliberations at Manchester crown court. Letby’s parents, John and Susan, sat a few feet away from them.

Goss told the court on Thursday 18 August – day 21 of the deliberations – that he had no power to force Letby to attend but that he would comment on it publicly during her sentencing.

The judge said he had asked Letby, through her legal team, whether she would attend the hearing via video link but that the defendant had again refused.

He added: “The sentencing hearing will take place whether she is present or not. The court has no power to force her to attend … therefore there is nothing I can do about it.”

Two other convicted murderers also declined to hear their punishment in person recently.

Thomas Cashman, the killer of eight-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel, declined to be in court as he was sentenced in April to a minimum of 42 years in prison.

In December last year, the killer of Zara Aleena, Jordan McSweeney, refused to attend as he was jailed for life and ordered to serve a minimum of 38 years. Aleena’s family described his no-show as “a slap in the face”.

The then justice secretary, Dominic Raab, said in April that he planned to change legislation to force criminals to appear for sentencing hearings.

“Spineless criminals like Cashman who hide from their sentencing prolong the suffering of victims and their families,” he wrote on Twitter.

“As I have already made clear, I plan to change the law to compel offenders to face up to their actions, so victims can see the justice they deserve being served.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said on Friday: “The lord chancellor has been clear he wants victims to see justice delivered and for all those found guilty to hear society’s condemnation at their sentencing hearing.

“Defendants can already be ordered by a judge to attend court with those who fail facing up to two years in prison.”

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