Published: 22/08/2002, Volume II2, No. 5819 Page 18 19
In a week in which we were all embroiled in the horror of the Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman case, public attention was once more focused on the vulnerability of children, which gave Angel of Death: the story of Beverly Allitt (Monday, ITV1) added resonance.
Allitt is the country's most notorious female lone serial killer. In just three months in 1991 she attacked 13 children on ward four at Grantham and Kesteven General Hospital near Lincoln; four of them died.
One of the programme's themes was the breakdown of trust between colleagues. At first, members of staff were certain of a medical explanation - a virus perhaps. It didn't occur to them that a member of staff might be responsible.
'It was a happy ward, we were a good team.We all knew each other, 'explained Margaret Geeson, a former staff nurse at the hospital.
When tests indicated that children were being intentionally harmed, strain was placed on working relationships.
Nurses broke down when interviewed by police: 'It was awful, absolutely awful.We shed a lot of tears on that ward.'
Staff were criticised by Allitt's defence team.
And each being in possession of a small piece of the complete picture, they were forbidden to talk to one other.'It was devastating, it was hurtful.The trust had gone.'Working with seriously ill children in such an atmosphere must have been unbearable.
Systems failures became apparent.Only one senior nurse was made aware of the fears that a nurse might be responsible for events on the ward, and a small child died as soon as she went off duty.
Blood tests not marked 'urgent' took 15 days to process.
Allitt had failed her exams to become a registered sick children's nurse, but the hospital needed staff so she was taken on.
A horrible detail emerged from the programme.
Samples from the children who died at the hands of Allitt had to be analysed on a number of occasions, meaning that the tissue was retained for up to six months.
Paediatric pathologist to the case Dr David Fagan pointed out that if the tissue had been disposed of within a couple of days - as, following the Alder Hey scandal, they must now be - this would have 'completely snuffed out any chance we had of convicting Allitt'.