• Police launch investigation into series of baby deaths at Cheshire hospital
  • Countess of Chester Hospital Foundation Trust alerted police after unexplained deaths
  • The investigation is focused on the trust’s neonatal unit which will remain open

A healthcare worker has been arrested by police today on suspicion of murdering eight babies and attempting to murder another six at the Countess of Chester Hospital.

The arrest this morning follows a year-long investigation by detectives who also revealed the probe is examining a total of 17 baby deaths at the hospital and 15 non-fatal collapses between March 2015 and July 2016.

The member of staff is in custody and expected to be questioned today.

In a statement detective inspector Paul Hughes said: “When the investigation was first launched it was focusing on the deaths of 15 babies that occurred between the period of June 2015 and June 2016. In addition the investigation was also conducting a review of six non-fatal collapses during the same period.

“Since the start of our enquiries and, as the information gathering process has continued, the scope of the investigation has now widened. We are now currently investigating the deaths of 17 babies and 15 non-fatal collapses between the period of March 2015 and July 2016.

“As a result of our ongoing enquiries we have today arrested a healthcare professional in connection with the investigation. She was arrested earlier this morning on suspicion of murder in relation to eight of the babies and attempted murder in relation to six of the babies and is currently in custody.

“Whilst this is a significant step forward in our enquiries it is important to remember that the investigation is very much active and ongoing at this stage. There are no set timescales for this coming to a conclusion, but we remain committed to carrying out a thorough investigation as soon as possible.”

The police investigation was launched after the trust initially contacted Cheshire police because of a higher number of baby deaths than would normally be expected in its neonatal services between June 2015 and June 2016.

An earlier independent clinical review into neonatal services at the hospital carried out by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health was unable to answer questions regarding the causes of death for the babies but made 24 recommendations to the trust.

DI Hughes added: “Due to the nature of the case and, as part of our ongoing enquiries, we have consulted with a number of medical specialists to ensure that we carry out as thorough an investigation as possible. We have also spoken to a large number of people to gather as much information as we can.

“We recognise that this investigation has a huge impact on all of the families, staff, and patients at the hospital as well as members of the public. Parents of all the babies are continuing to be kept fully updated and are being supported throughout the process by specially trained officers. This is an extremely difficult time for all the families and it is important to remember that, at the heart of this, there are a number of bereaved families seeking answers as to what happened to their children.”

He added that anyone with information can contact police via operation.hummingbird@cheshire.pnn.police.uk or anonymously to Crimestoppers, on 0800 555 111