Manchester

Saline deaths: Stepping Hill nurse Rebecca Leighton 'a scapegoat'

Rebecca Leighton
Image caption All charges against nurse Rebecca Leighton were dropped on Friday

A nurse who spent six weeks in prison charged with contaminating saline at Stockport's Stepping Hill hospital was made a scapegoat, her lawyer said.

Proceedings against Rebecca Leighton, 27, were discontinued on Friday and she was released from custody.

Greater Manchester Police continue to investigate the unexplained deaths of seven patients at the hospital.

Her solicitor, Carl Richmond, said there had to be a scapegoat as there was "absolute chaos" at the hospital.

He said he got the feeling the hospital "could not function because of all the speculation".

"I was imploring the police to bail her while they continued their inquiries but the decision was made to charge.

"They jumped the gun, though, and tried to build the case against her from there rather than the usual method of bailing her pending further inquiries."

Ms Leighton, of Heavily, Stockport, said her life was "turned upside down" and became a "living hell" when she was arrested at her flat on 20 July on suspicion of murder.

Image caption Police continue to investigate seven unexplained deaths at the hospital

Two days later she was formally accused of causing criminal damage with intent to endanger life.

The alarm had been raised earlier that month when a higher than normal number of patients were reported to have "unexplained" low blood sugar levels amid fears saline solution had been contaminated with insulin.

Mr Richmond said no decision had been made yet to sue police for wrongful arrest but Ms Leighton, her family and her legal team would meet as soon as possible to discuss the matter.

During a bail application last month, it emerged the evidence at that stage against the nurse amounted to her fingerprint being on a saline bag which was damaged by a needle.

Her thumb print was also discovered on the bottom of a bottle of antibiotic fluid which contained insulin.

A judge at Manchester Crown Court was told that "many people" had access to both the bag and the fluid, and Ms Leighton had reason to touch them in her role as acting sister.

Mr Richmond added: "The police examined the bag properly and concluded it had in fact not been damaged.

"We then had fingerprints of other individuals on other contaminated items but my client's fingerprints were not on them.

"The prosecution became untenable then."

He said Ms Leighton's spell in custody had taken its toll both mentally and physically and that she was "in a bad way".

"She is not the person she was," he said.

A total of 200 people have already been spoken to as part of the inquiry, which police have said is comparable in scale to the 1996 IRA Manchester bomb probe.

Police are planning to interview a further 500 people, including staff, patients and visitors, who could have had access to the area during the time the tampering may have taken place.

The three patients whose deaths police are known to be investigating are Tracey Arden, 44, Arnold Lancaster, 71, and Derek Weaver, 83.

Four more suspected victims have yet to be named but their families are aware the cases have been referred to police by the coroner.

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