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Former neonatal nurse Lucy Letby who has been found guilty of killing seven babies and trying to kill six others. Alamy Stock Photo
lucy letby

UK media and politicians call for law change after Lucy Letby refuses to attend sentencing

The judge ordered that Letby be sent copies of the statements read out by the families of her victims after her refusal to attend.

THE REFUSAL OF serial child killer Lucy Letby to attend her sentencing and hear the testimony of her victims’ families has produced widespread support for a change in the UK law.

The 33-year-old was not present to hear words of condemnation from the judge and victims’ families at Manchester Crown Court yesterday, prompting further outrage.

Letby was given a whole-life order at the hearing after last week being convicted of the murders of seven babies and the attempted murders of six more.

A whole life sentence means that the crime was so serious that criminal will never be released from prison.

As of the end of 2022, there were 66 whole-life prisoners in the UK.

The judge, Mr Justice Goss, ordered that Letby be sent a transcript of his sentencing remarks and copies of the statements read out by the families of her victims.

He said: “The defendant, Lucy Letby, has refused to attend court for this sentence hearing. Accordingly, I have to sentence her in her absence.

“I shall deliver the sentencing remarks as if she was present to hear them. And I direct that she is provided with a transcript of my remarks and copies of the victim personal statements read to the court.”

The statement from the mother of twin boys Child E and Child F, who Letby was convicted of murdering and attempting to murder respectively, said her absence was “one final act of wickedness”.

She told the court: “Even in these final days of the trial she has tried to control things, the disrespect she has shown the families and the court show what type of person she is.


Letby’s refusal to leave her cell follows the similar actions of Thomas Cashman earlier this year when he was sentenced for the murder of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel in Liverpool in August 2022.

British prime minister Rishi Sunak branded Letby “cowardly” for refusing to appear for sentencing.

Sunak said the Government was looking at changing the law so criminals could be compelled to attend sentencing hearings.

Speaking yesterday, Sunak said: “I think it’s cowardly that people who commit such horrendous crimes do not face their victims and hear first-hand the impact that their crimes have had on them and their families and loved ones.

“We are looking, and have been, at changing the law to make sure that that happens and that’s something that we’ll bring forward in due course.”

previously-unissued-court-artist-drawing-dated-170823-by-elizabeth-cook-of-empty-chairs-in-court-after-nurse-lucy-letby-refused-to-attend-manchester-crown-court-during-her-trial-letby-was-accused-o Court artist drawing dated 17 Aug. by Elizabeth Cook of empty chairs in court after nurse Lucy Letby refused to attend Manchester Crown Court during her trial. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The UK’s Justice Secretary has also vowed to change the law at the “earliest opportunity” to ensure serious offenders can be forced to attend their sentencing.

Chalk said yesterday: “Lucy Letby is not just a murderer but a coward, whose failure to face her victims’ families, refusing to hear their impact statements and society’s condemnation, is the final insult.

“We are looking to change the law so offenders can be compelled to attend sentencing hearings.”

He added: “Cases like these make me even more determined to make sure the worst offenders attend court to face justice, when ordered by the judge.

“That’s why we are looking at options to change the law at the earliest opportunity to ensure that in the silence that follows the clang of the prison gate, society’s condemnation will be ringing in prisoners’ ears.”

The PA news agency understands plans could be put forward as early as the autumn, as soon as parliamentary time allows.

However, Labour leader Keir Starmer accused the UK Government of “dragging its heels” over changing the law.

Starmer said: “I hope the Government will do it because I think it can be done very quickly.

“If they don’t, we will force an amendment to appropriate legislation. But my position is to invite the Government to get on with it, to offer Labour’s support so this could go through very, very quickly.

“This isn’t the first case. The Government has been dragging its heels on this. Get on with it, for the sake of these victims, and of course, the other cases that went before it.”


Judges in the UK can order defendants to come to court before verdicts are delivered.

If they fail to obey, they can be found in contempt of court and face up to two years in prison – but the law does not cover sentencing hearings.

While there are no laws in place to make attending sentencing hearings a legal obligation, the defended is expected to attend.

A petition to introduce new laws to force offenders to be present in court for sentencing currently has just under 36,000 signatures

It calls for “prison and court staff to be given powers to use reasonable force to get offenders into the dock – as they do to transfer them from a court to prison”.

If it reaches 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate in the UK Parliament. 

Among the reasons for not forcing an unwilling defendant into court to hear the sentencing includes the risk of the defendant using the opportunity to retraumatise victims and their families.

For example, the father of a murdered police officer has said a law change may cause “more anguish” for the families of victims.

Former prison officer Bryn Hughes, whose daughter Pc Nicola Hughes was killed in 2012 alongside fellow Pc Fiona Bone in a gun and grenade ambush while on duty in Tameside, Greater Manchester, said calls for a law change are a “knee-jerk reaction”.

Hughes told the PA news agency: “Most of the time they’re going to be sociopaths and they feed off that anguish and grief.

“If they can see families in the dock they’re going to shout abuse, they’re going to play up, start fighting and anything else, because they can see that pain and anguish on their faces, I don’t think it’s worth going through all that.

“I’ve carried people into the dock who are biting, spitting and shouting abuse and within two or three minutes of the judge speaking to deliver a sentence they’ve started again and the judge has just said ‘take them back downstairs’.

“It disrupts everything, causes more anguish and it delays things, so it’s a really hard choice and they’re not the type of people to just say to them ‘sit down and be quiet’, they’re beyond that, they’ve got total disregard for life and disrespect for law and order.”

Hughes, who was a prison officer for 25 years, said making it mandatory for criminals to be present at court will “eat away” at the families of victims, saying they should instead “take comfort” from their sentences.

members-of-the-media-outside-the-countess-of-chester-hospital-in-chester-england-friday-aug-18-2023-a-neonatal-nurse-in-a-british-hospital-has-been-found-guilty-of-killing-seven-babies-and-tryin Members of the media outside the Countess of Chester Hospital. Lucy Letby was charged with murdering seven babies when she worked at the Countess of Chester Hospital between 2015 and 2016. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

John Thomas, a cross-bench peer and former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that for sentences short of whole-life terms the “obvious” answer is to have powers to add to the sentence if the person convicted fails to attend.

But he said the threat of a longer sentence would be “completely pointless” in the case of someone already receiving a whole-life order, such as Lucy Letby.

Addressing the option of forcibly requiring the convicted to attend sentencing, he added: “Having once seen someone in the United States bound and gagged in court, I don’t think that that is an appropriate solution.”

Thomas said one alternative would be to broadcast the judge’s remarks to the person’s cell.

Media reaction

This morning’s papers in the UK widely criticised Letby and called for a change in the law.  

The Times said a “growing number of MPs and ministers” believe those convicted of murders and other horrific crimes should hear the sentences imposed on them in person.

While admitting forcing criminals to attend their sentencing may prove difficult, the newspaper’s leader column said: “Like a number of other murderers in recent years, Letby refused to attend court on the final days of her ten-month trial. To the surprise of many, there is no law to compel her to do so.”

The Daily Mirror also backed a change in the law.

The paper described as “inexcusable” the failure to add such an amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill after Thomas Cashman’s refusal to attend when he was sentenced for the murder of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel.

The Victims and Prisoners Bill is currently at report stage in the House of Commons.

Writing in the Daily Express, former justice secretary Robert Buckland said Letby’s “cynical refusal” to come into the dock added to “already heinous injury”.

While Buckland said “it is better for families to be able to see the defendant and their reaction to what is being said in court,” he warned that “we should not risk giving any power to the defendant to delay or even halt proceedings”.

Buckland aired the option of a live TV link to the prisoner’s cell and increasing sentences for those who refused to attend.

That option was echoed by barrister Matthew Scott writing in the Daily Telegraph.

He said: “The law does not value the life of a murder victim according to the poignancy of the bereaved relatives’ pleas.

“They do however give a voice to the murderer’s victims and they represent an attempt to ensure that the murderer is made aware of the invariably catastrophic effect of their crime.

“All of these purposes could be achieved without the physical presence of the defendant, by ensuring that the murderer who refused to come to court is placed in a cell into which is broadcast the proceedings from the sentencing court.

“They would be compelled to hear, if not to listen to, the statements of the bereaved and the judge’s sentencing remarks.”

The Daily Mail called Letby’s refusal a “last act of cowardice” and said it deprived the families of the chance to “look her in the eye”.

The newspaper’s comment section said: “Although her presence could not have assuaged their grief, it would at least have brought some degree of closure.

“The Government has been promising a law to compel criminals to attend court for sentencing. It can’t come too soon.”

Press Association