To the parents of her patients on the children's ward, nurse Beverley Allitt was a friendly face and a shoulder to cry on. Someone who wanted the best for their kids. The reality was very different. Baby-killer Allitt was picking off patients one by one...
A child’s death is always a tragedy. And though the hard-working doctors and nurses at Grantham and Kesteven Hospital in Lincolnshire did their best to save the patients on their children’s ward, some sadly didn’t survive.
Like little Liam Taylor, just 7 months old. He’d been brought to the hospital in February by his worried parents, and diagnosed with a chest infection. But soon after being admitted, he died of a massive heart attack. No-one, even experts in the field, could understand why.
Just weeks later, another patient died of an unexplained heart attack. Timothy Hardwick, 11, was taken to the same children’s ward following an epileptic fit. Hours later, his heart had stopped. Like Liam, no cause could be found.
A month later, more tragedy. Tiny 2-month-old twins Becky and Katie Phillips were being cared for on the ward after a premature delivery. Despite this, neither was seriously ill. When Becky died suddenly, no-one could understand why. Katie fell ill too, with symptoms similar to her sister. Her life was saved but she was left with life-altering brain damage.
Finally, Claire Peck, 15 months, was admitted to the ward suffering with asthma. She, too, suffered a sudden heart attack and could not be revived.
Hospital consultant Dr Nelson Porter was concerned. As well as these tragic and unexplained deaths, nine other child patients had fallen ill with mysterious heart or respiratory problems – though their lives were saved.
An investigation was launched, the police were called. And a check of records revealed something alarming. The same nurse had been on duty during the time that each of the 13 victims had fallen ill – Beverley Allitt, 24.
Police gathered evidence and then made their arrest. Beverley Allitt didn’t look like a baby-killer. She appeared caring and helpful to parents. The grieving mother of Becky Phillips had even asked Allitt to be Katie’s Godmother, after Allitt had saved the child’s life. Convinced by Allitt’s act, Mrs Phillips had no idea the nurse was the very reason her children’s lives had been endangered in the first place.
Tests carried out on the 13 victims showed extraordinary levels of potassium or insulin in their systems. Enough to cause a heart attack, even death. And the only person with the opportunity to administer the drugs was Beverley Allitt.
From the day of her arrest until February 1993 when she stood in the dock of Nottingham Crown Court, Allitt denied harming the children. But after a six-week trial, the woman that the Press called the ‘Angel of Death’ was found guilty murdering four children, attempting to murder another three, and causing grievous bodily harm with intent to a further six. Given 13 life sentences, she was told she’d serve a minimum of 30 years.
Still denying her heinous crimes, Allitt has offered no explanation on what drove her to hurt and kill her vulnerable victims. She’s been diagnosed with Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental condition where sufferers inflict illness on children as a way to draw attention to themselves.
But the judge who reviewed Allitt’s sentence said there was ‘an element of sadism’ in her offending, adding, ‘By her actions, what should have been a place of safety for its patients became not just a place of danger, but if not a killing field something close to it.’
Beverley Allit is now an inmate at Rampton Secure Hospital in Nottinghamshire. It’s unlikely she’ll ever be released.
An inquiry into the tragedy pointed at failings at the hospital and said that if clues had been followed up sooner, at least one child’s life could have been saved. Something that, to this day, must haunt the families of children that Beverley Allitt targeted…