Understanding Lucy Letby

Over the past few days, I have met and heard about numerous people who are deeply distressed by the recent news concerning Lucy Letby, the nurse who has been convicted of killing seven babies.  As they describe it, they are partly distressed because of the dreadful nature of the events, and partly because they cannot understand why a nurse would kill babies.

My standard response is that it is right and healthy to be distressed when we hear about such things, but please do not attempt to understand why she did this - and do not be distressed by your failure to understand.  There is no reason for such activity which would make sense to a normal person.

And asking why a nurse would do such things is the wrong question.  A nurse is a person who devotes their lives to caring for the sick; there is no reason why a nurse would kill babies.

A better question is: why would someone who wants to kill babies choose to work in a neonatal ward, where they would have unsupervised access to sick babies who may die anyway?  I suspect the answer to that question is far easier.

We live in a sick world, where the innocent frequently suffer.  It seems to me we should be saddened when this happens, but not surprised: we know such things happen.  We should also be grateful that they do not happen very often around us, in Western democracies - because in other parts of the world innocent people are killed and maimed far more often.  And we should ask what we can do to promote justice and health everywhere in the world.  What else could 'love your neighbour' mean?


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  • I suspect that she has a schizoid personality, which enables her to detach emotionally from other people's emotions. Apparently she showed no surprise and no emotion when the police arrested her. Unfortunately schizoid and pyschopathic people don't detach from their own emotions as much as they like to think, even on an "id" level. The first killing may have been as simple as wanting to gain attention from the doctor that she was infatuated with. Then the feeling of power became attractive. Any sin becomes easier the more often you do it. 

    It would be interesting to know more about her parents' personalities and her relationship with them. It is possible that that might hold some clues, but equally possible that it would leave us none the wiser.  

  • I think we should seek to understand why someone would want to kill babies, even if we cannot relate to such dreadful behaviour. By we, I probably mean experts. I suspect ordinary people couldn't possibly begin to get past the natural revulsion in order to assess the underlying phsycological or other reasons. But by understanding we could possibly reduce the risk of it happening again.

  • I agree with a lot of this - the individual concerned appears to have many of the well-known attributes associated with a psychopathic personality (e.g absence of genuine remorse, skilled at deception and hiding motives) - which is far from 'normal'. 

    However, in the BBC Panorama programme on this case (@21 mins), Prof David Wilson, a consultant criminologist specialising in serial killers, said that the individual did not appear to suffer from the classic "God complex" of enjoying the choice of whom to kill that other healthcare-based serial killers clearly had.

    It is possible there is some deeply twisted logic underlying her behaviour - but that absolutely doesn't make it right or even properly understandable.

    • I agree that Letby doesn't appear to fit the expected profile: this may be helpful when the criminal justice system attempts to deal with future cases, but I don't see it is particularly relevant here.  My post is aimed at members of the public who are disturbed by her behaviour - I'm not trying to provide guidance to the people who, through their jobs, are required to engage with the case.

      For what it's worth, I would go further: I am confident that there is some deep twisted logic underlying her behaviour.  If it has not happened already, I believe a few individuals should seek to spend time with her and understand her account of what she did and why.  Of course, she may choose not to talk, and she may choose to lie to the people talking with her, but the attempt should be made: these cases are very rare, so we need to learn what we can from each one, to help us plan to prevent and identify future cases.

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