Lucy Letby: The Moral Case for Capital Punishment 


The monstrous case of Lucy Letby reminds us that the devil wears many faces. The particular evil in this instance is that she chose to hijack the compassion afforded by a nurse’s uniform to facilitate her crimes.

While abhorrent, this should not surprise us; where else should evil gravitate, if not to those professions which grant immediate access to the vulnerable, the young, and the trusting? The malevolent hide in plain sight within the police force, masquerade as teachers, and perhaps vilest of all, occasionally pose as medical staff too.   

Letby was sentenced last week to 14 whole-life jail terms, for the murder of seven babies, and the attempted murder of six others during her time at the Countess of Chester Hospital between 2015 and 2016. Although this already makes Letby Britain’s worst infant serial killer, these numbers are conservative. Cheshire Police have confirmed they will be examining the records of 4,000 babies Letby may have come into contact with, alongside fears that she harmed dozens more. 

There are an inordinate number of questions raised by the case itself: why is CCTV not mandatory in every ICU in the country, when Britain is the most heavily-surveilled nation in the world, bar China? Why did the NHS managers think it acceptable to instruct doctors ‘not to make a fuss’ about babies dying suspiciously? Why were the alarm bells not tolling furiously when insulin was discovered in the bloodstream of victims, at a time when no babies were being prescribed the drug? Notwithstanding the courage of many medical staff in raising concerns, why did they not simply circumvent the chain of command and call the police themselves, once it became clear that management were unforgivably negligent? And worst of all, what kind of arse-covering sadist delays contacting the police for almost two years, prioritising the hospital’s ‘reputation’ over the lives of new-borns? The nation applauded the NHS during the pandemic; I suspect it won’t do so again in a hurry.  

Then of course, there is the interminable discussion about what ‘drove’ Letby to her crimes – in a desperate bid to exonerate her from their wickedness. I must confess, despite my psychology background, I cannot summon up the requisite curiosity. While others may well stress the importance of preventing future cases of infanticide (a forlorn hope, given psychopaths’ well-documented ability to dodge detection), I find myself supremely indifferent to an exposition of the elements of Letby’s life that might assuage her guilt. Letby is not the victim here.  

Instead, I wish to ask an alternate question: does Letby deserve to live? We must recognise surely, that when it comes to punishment for crimes of this severity the law is wholly inadequate. The ultimate suffering caused by the murder of a child cannot be recompensed, even if the State were so inclined (which of course it is not); a reflection poignantly voiced by the victim impact statement of Baby C’s mother:

 “There is no sentence that will ever compare to the excruciating agony that we have suffered as a consequence of your actions.”  

We must also concede that the British justice system is so chronically biased in favour of the perpetrators, as to be morally bankrupt. Early release is the norm, not the exception. British jails now come equipped with gyms, satellite television in cells, and cash bonuses for good behaviour. Life is so cushy in fact, that inmates (sorry, ‘residents’) no longer bother trying to escape.  

While knee-jerk reactions are naturally to be avoided, after a suitable interval the debate on capital punishment needs to be reopened. Yes, that would necessitate leaving the ECHR (no bad thing, seeing as the Convention on Human Right’s hamstrings Britain in terms of immigration, while remaining an abomination to victims generally), but I am firmly of the belief that the UK justice system is now lenient to the point of derision, and that such a debate might serve to counter that.   

Unlike most controversies, I consider the death penalty genuinely conflicting. The arguments against it are compelling, so let’s examine them. On the morality of State execution, I recognise the point that society ought to conduct itself better than its worst citizens. The trouble is, such an approach leaves us enfeebled to precisely those who seek to take advantage. It is witnessed by wishy-washy laws which have permitted Letby’s refusal to attend her sentencing, when anyone sane would agree she should have been dragged kicking and screaming into the courtroom.  

There is also the question as to whether capital punishment is genuinely a superior punishment to life imprisonment. Judging from the propensity of serious criminals to take their own lives rather than face eternal incarceration, a case can clearly be made. This point was also echoed in the victim impact statement made by the mother of babies A and B: 

“We hope you live a very long life and spend every day suffering for what you’ve done.” 

Then there’s the issue of mental illness. In the case of Letby herself, I am not persuaded to any considerable degree. She took great pains to vary her means of murder, in a bid to avoid detection. She managed to regulate her behaviour to the extent that she did not attack willy-nilly, and was never caught in flagrante. If we are to afford her the defence of diminished responsibility on the grounds of psychopathy, why not excuse bank robbers on the grounds of kleptomania? But even if mental illness were to absolve her of responsibility for her crimes, so what? Why should her predilection for infanticide trump the right of the innocent to live, or deny the victims’ parents the right to cherish them? Letby had a choice; her victims didn’t.  

By far the most persuasive argument for my mind, is the undeniable reality that mistakes are made. This has certainly been the case historically, and is likely to remain so until human error and interference is taken out of the equation entirely. I would therefore propose the following caveats to any future implementation of capital punishment: 

  1. That it could be used only in extremis, for the absolute worst crimes. 
  2. That it could only be used in cases of certainty – where a confession had been given, or where the video evidence was irrefutable. 
  3. That it could only be used at a judge’s discretion, and would require sufficient justification and authorisation.  

The morality of such an argument was expressed poignantly by Margaret Thatcher back in 1987: 

Exactly such an approach is also favoured by the majority of the British public, for whom the most serious crimes are enough to tip a minority position into a reliable majority. And therein lies the moral case for capital punishment: some crimes are so unforgivable that the majority of decent people will condone the abhorrent act of murder, despite their natural revulsion to it. The crimes sufficiently odious to achieve this are terrorism, mass murders and the murder of a child. On a personal note, I would add treason to that very short list (by which I mean betrayal of one’s country, thereby incorporating elements of all three).  

So, for Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, who decided to decapitate Lee Rigby in broad daylight, I would advocate death. In the case of Dahbia Benkired who confessed to the tortuous and sadistic murder and dismemberment of 12-year-old Lola Daviet, I would not hesitate. And for Lucy Letby, where the weight of circumstantial evidence is overwhelming, and whose revulsion at her own crimes was exposed by her handwritten confession ‘I am evil and I did this’, I believe the threshold has been met.  

Let me be clear – I am not making the case for capital punishment on mere financial grounds, on the matter of deterrence, nor to free up valuable prison real estate (although such arguments are not inconsiderable, and need to be heard). No, my opinion is based purely on moral grounds. In denying the most innocent of victims their fundamental right to life, you should immediately forfeit your own. You have stolen the birthdays, the rites of passage, the future generations and the memories – not just from those you killed, but from their families; those who will never escape the prisons you have condemned them to. In so doing you have destroyed not one, but multiple lives. Society much demand a price for that.   

There is a concern here never voiced, which is the danger of the absence of justice. Allowing so vile an act to go largely unpunished, speaks to a perverse and morally vacuous society – the consequences of which cannot be desirable. The taxpayer-funded relative comfort and isolation which awaits Letby would be quite welcome to some members of the public, let alone criminals. And while the festering slums employed as prisons by some of our European cousins would be a more appropriate guesthouse for the likes of Letby, she will not be housed there. Letby’s jail apparently features a fashion boutique and the possibility of animal visits – one wonders if the NSPCA will be quicker to object than the NHS were?  

By all means make the case against capital punishment (it’s a strong one), but ask yourself this: how are you going to feel when Letby decides to gender transition, in order to move to a prison with a bit more of a nightlife? What will your reaction be when the BBC offers her her own podcast, or she lands a 12-part Netflix series and book deal? It hardly bears thinking about, because you can guarantee that someone, somewhere is weighing up precisely that financial opportunity. 

The paralysis of uncertainty only afflicts the good, while ideological certitude justifies every act of wickedness. Britain is currently drowning in a sea of its own misguided compassion. A constant stream of rapists and criminals posing as asylum seekers are waived through by the Border Force, because our leaders aren’t confident enough to simply say ‘No’. Children are routinely mutilated under the guise of inclusivity, because society is no longer willing to protect them from dangerous ideas. And extradition flights are grounded, as though it were tacitly understood that the ‘human rights’ of murderers outrank the lives of those they will go on to kill.  Even though we cannot bring them back, morality demands that the tiny tots murdered in this case be given some semblance of justice. And a society which can stomach compassion for mass murderers, can stomach uncomfortable decisions too. As for the fate of Miss Letby, let us give her the last word:  ‘I am a horrible evil person.’  ‘The world is better off without me.’  ‘I don’t deserve to live.’  I couldn’t have put it better myself.   

Republished with kind permission from Frank’s New Conservative Website here.