The move will grants the inquiry legal powers to compel witnesses, including both former and current staff of the Countess of Chester Hospital Trust, to provide evidence.
Letby was found guilty of the murder of seven babies and attempting to kill six others while she worked at the neonatal unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital.
The Government had promised a non-statutory inquiry, after the 33-year-old nurse was sentenced to a whole-life term for her “despicable, horrific crimes” last Monday, but families and doctors have since demanded it be made statutory.
Confirming this will now take place, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Steven Barclay said on Wednesday evening: “The crimes committed by Lucy Letby are truly harrowing, and my thoughts remain with the families of her victims.
“Following her conviction, we announced an inquiry and said the nature of this inquiry would be shaped by the families.
“Having now discussed this with the families, we will launch a full statutory inquiry giving it the legal powers to compel witnesses to give evidence.
“This statutory public inquiry will aim to give the families the answers they need and ensure lessons are learned.”
Asked why the decision to upgrade the probe had taken so long, Mr Barclay told ITV News he “wanted to discuss the terms of the inquiry with the families” before making the change.
The Department of Health & Social Care said: “While statutory inquiries traditionally take longer to conclude than non-statutory inquiries, moving to a statutory footing will mean the inquiry will have legal powers to compel witnesses, including former and current staff of the Countess of Chester Hospital Trust, to give evidence.”
Lawyers representing families of some of the babies attacked by Letby have welcomed the announcement, insisting that “without these powers, the inquiry would have been ineffectual”.
Richard Scorer, head of abuse law and public inquiries at law firm Slater and Gordon, said: “We welcome the Government’s announcement that the Lucy Letby inquiry will be upgraded to a statutory inquiry.
Lucy Letby’s crimes are truly harrowing.
After talking to victims’ families, we will launch a full statutory inquiry with powers to compel witnesses to give evidence.
This aims to give the families the answers they need and ensure lessons are learned.https://t.co/lo3QIVxd2W
— Steve Barclay (@SteveBarclay) August 30, 2023
“It is essential that the chair has the powers to compel witnesses to give evidence under oath, and to force disclosure of documents. Without these powers, the inquiry would have been ineffectual and our clients would have been deprived of the answers they need and deserve.
“This inquiry is essential for the parents of Letby’s victims, but it is also important for all of us.”
Dr Ravi Jayaram, one of the doctors who helped catch Letby by raising concerns to senior managers at the Countess of Chester Hospital, told ITV News: “I don’t understand why, right at the start, there was a rush to say it was going to be non-statutory.
“I’m glad this is going to be a public inquiry because no stone will be left unturned and questions that need to be asked will be asked and the answers will be found – unlike in a non-statutory inquiry where questions that will cause difficult or embarrassing answers won’t get asked.”
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting also welcomed the news, saying: “It’s right that the wishes of the families have now been taken into account.
“No stone can be left unturned in getting to the truth of this awful tragedy. Nothing short of the full force of the law would do.”
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “NHS leaders will welcome the announcement of the inquiry into what happened in Chester and that it will be on a statutory basis. It’s vital that lessons are learnt by the NHS, its regulators, clinicians and leaders.
“There are of course a series of questions that are being raised by the events in Chester and the inquiry will be best placed to establish the facts of these events and to draw conclusions and recommendations for the trust and the wider NHS.
It’s right that the wishes of the families have now been taken into account. No stone can be left unturned in getting to the truth of this awful tragedy. Nothing short of the full force of the law would do. https://t.co/STXzYynw9f
— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) August 30, 2023
“NHS leaders will support the work of the inquiry in whatever way they can.”
Letby preyed on tiny babies in a horrifying year-long crime spree at the Countess of Chester Hospital between June 2015 and June 2016, injecting them with air, insulin, and milk as well as carrying out physical assaults.
Her trial at Manchester Crow Court heard how consultants on the neonatal unit raised concerns about Letby but hospital bosses failed to act on the warnings.
One doctor was even told to apologise to Letby as part of a grievance process as the hospital prepared to return her to caring for children.
Consultants first raised concerns about Letby in 2015, the trial heard. She was eventually arrested at her home in Chester in July 2018.
Last Monday, Mr Justice Goss imposed a whole life order on the serial killer, as she shunned the sentencing hearing and cowered in her cell.
The judge told the empty dock: “You acted in a way that was completely contrary to the normal human instincts of nurturing and caring for babies, and in gross breach of the trust all citizens place in those who work in medical and caring professions.”
He said there was a “deep malevolence bordering on sadism in your actions”, saying: “This was a cruel, calculating, and cynical campaign of child murder involving the smallest and most vulnerable of children, knowing your actions were causing significant physical suffering and would cause untold mental suffering .”
He said “cunning” Letby had been considered hard-working and talented by colleagues, and she used her access to the most vulnerable babies to carry out “premeditated” attacks.
“You knew the last thing anyone working in the unit would or did thing was someone caring for the babies was deliberately harming them”, the judge said.
He concluded Letby kept “morbid” trophies from the murders including medical documents charting the victims’ health deteriorating, she had a “detached enthusiasm” for the attempts to save the children she harmed, and she had a “fascination” with the babies and their familes who she targeted.
During her trial Letby denied all the charges and offered no clues as to why she had embarked on the killing spree.
Her barrister, Ben Myers KC, offered no mitigation for Letby and said she had “maintained her innocence throughout these proceedings”.
Letby will now go down as one of the most notorious killers in British criminal history, and as only the fourth woman in history – after mass murderers Myra Hindley, Rose West, and Joanna Dennehy – to be handed a whole life order.
Cheshire Police has said it is now reviewing the care of around 4,000 babies who may have come into contact with Letby at the Countess of Chester Hospital and the Liverpool Women’s Hospital between 2012 and 2016.