Lucy Letby, a former neonatal nurse who killed 7 newborn babies and attempted to kill 13 more, was sentenced to life in prison in the U.K. on Tuesday. After the sentencing, X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, was aflutter with details surrounding the case.
Though justice has ostensibly been served, the gaping emotional scars and pain felt by the parents of these children remain. So, too, does the question of not only why, but how, Letby got away with her crimes.
Letby, 33, worked in the Countess of Chester Hospital’s intensive care unit and was entrusted with the task of providing care for very sick babies. Instead, she force-fed them milk, administered air into their stomachs and blood, physically assaulted them, and poisoned them with insulin.
She was convicted of assaulting 14 babies between 2015 and 2016, seven of whom did not survive her gruesome attacks.
The details of her crime are bad enough. However, it is even more sickening that she was able to literally get away with murder because she was protected by white privilege and weaponized her white womanhood against the most vulnerable population in the world: sick infants.
How Lucy Letby got away with murder
In an exclusive interview with Paul Brand, Dr. Ravi Jayaram explained how the hospital protected Letby, even after staff raised serious concerns about her conduct. Over the course of several months, babies kept dying on Letby’s watch. In June 2015, when the first three babies in Letby’s care died, the hospital’s doctors (including Jayaram) met with managers and voiced concerns.
Nothing was done, and months later, another two babies died, and four collapsed. By February 2016, three internal reviews discovered no foul play. And Letby’s reign of terror continued.
Instead of facing consequences, the nurse was allowed to cry with the parents of the babies she secretly murdered and help them make tiny keepsakes to commemorate their babies’ lives. She would even offer to bathe the babies one last time.
“We did what we thought the right thing was and tried to escalate our concerns to the executive level management, the senior level management of the hospital,” Jayaram explained. “We’re saying to the people who run the hospital, ‘We’ve got serious concerns that there’s something on towards going here.’”
By April of 2016, three more babies had nearly died.
Meanwhile, the hospital’s management maintained their position that Letby was harmless. The hospital’s board met with workers only after two more babies collapsed and another two died.
It was at that point made clear that Letby’s whiteness was her shield. The white, male board members reportedly called Jayaram’s concerns about Letby a “convenient” excuse and essentially blamed him for what was happening on the neonatal unit.
The ‘perceived “niceness”‘ of white women
Yet, after the nurse was moved from the unit, the deaths finally stopped. An investigation was finally launched by the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health Review, and in retrospect, its findings are chilling.
The report concluded that Letby “was an enthusiastic, capable and committed nurse” and “there was nothing about her background that was suspicious.” It even went so far as to accuse concerned doctors of being irrational, going with “their gut feeling,” bullying Letby, and behaving in unbecoming ways.
Those doctors, including Jayaram, were called into a meeting where Letby was allegedly treated like the victim. The hospital’s chief executive warned everyone not to raise any more concerns about her or they would face consequences.
Letby read a letter to her co-workers wherein she claimed she would prove their concerns wrong. Then she took things a step further and filed a grievance against them. The staff who tried to warn about her crimes were instead censured and forced to write her an apology letter.
“The perceived ‘niceness’ of white women is literally how they get away with murder(s),” author and podcaster Kelechi Okafor tweeted. “It’s interesting in workplace dynamics who is allowed to raise a grievance and who is believed. Glad she’s being dealt with.”
Okafor is absolutely right.
Jayaram’s fight to protect babies stood no chance against Lucy Letby’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed white womanhood. In a system of white supremacist patriarchy, white women occupy a very strange social position. They do not hold the power of white men, but white men are bound to a moral code to “protect” them, especially from “attacks” by people of color.
It is this very same patriarchal structure that resulted in the murder of Emmett Till after Carolyn Bryant Donham accused him of whistling at her. White men rushed to her defense—and literally lynched an innocent black boy.
Till was dragged out of his home and murdered in the dark of the night. No one was ever held responsible for his murder, and decades later, Donham admitted to lying about the whole incident.
In recent years, the rise of “Karen” memes and videos/images capturing white women abusing people of color and then crying or calling the police has reignited discussions about the insidious power that white women wield.
This power was demonstrated in 2020 by Amy Cooper, the woman nicknamed “Central Park Karen,” after she called the police and reported “an African-American man threatening my life.” The Black man, Christian Cooper, had asked her to put her dog on a leash in a leash-only area of the park.
Similar incidents to happen in subsequent years are uncountable, and the digital era has put them on display for the world to see.
From confinement, Lucy Letby is still weilding privilege
Now, the weaponization of white womanhood has claimed unlikely victims: vulnerable babies. The very same system that allowed for egregious attacks on people of color sanctioned the murder of infants by coddling and protecting a white woman by any means necessary. This is a major indictment of white patriarchy.
There is baby blood not only on Letby’s hands but also on those of the white man in charge who were bound to the unstated codes of the power structure.
Letby was allowed to take front and center stage to read a letter to her co-workers wherein she cried that she was being unfairly treated and victimized when concerns about her behavior were initially raised. Those workers were even forced to pen her an apology.
Her victims’ families, however, were never given the chance to face her.
In an impact statement, one mother, whose child was only four days old when he was killed by Letby, said that it felt like something out of a horror story to learn that the nurse enjoyed watching her family grieve.
That impact statement was never heard by Letby. She refused to attend court for sentencing and learned that she would spend the rest of her life in prison, with no chance of parole, from the quiet comfort of her cell.
Her final power play and cruel decision withheld closure for the families whose lives she forever maimed. It underscored the maddening and sickening way that societal structures continue to defend and embolden white women who weaponize their privilege.