Newspapers rally behind law change as Letby refuses to attend sentencing

Government urged to bring in legislation after child killer avoided facing families of her victims.

The refusal of serial child killer Lucy Letby to attend her sentencing and hear the testimony of her victims’ families produced widespread support for a change in the law in Tuesday’s newspaper.

Letby’s refusal to leave her cell follows the similar actions of Thomas Cashman earlier this year when he was sentenced for the murder of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel in Liverpool in August 2022.

The Times said a “growing number of MPs and ministers” believe those convicted of murders and other horrific crimes should hear the sentences imposed on them in person.

While admitting forcing criminals to attend their sentencing may prove difficult, the newspaper’s leader column said: “Like a number of other murderers in recent years, Letby refused to attend court on the final days of her ten-month trial. To the surprise of many, there is no law to compel her to do so.

“Rishi Sunak called her a coward. It goes far beyond that.

“It matters that the public sees these penalties imposed and hears the judge’s reasoning explained in person to those convicted.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is quoted in the Daily Mirror backing a change in the law.

He said: “Victims’ families have been through the most awful ordeal. They’re entitled to see justice delivered. So we need to change the law. I hope the Government will do it because I think it can be done very quickly.”

Lucy Letby court case
Undated handout file photo issued by Cheshire Constabulary of Lucy Letby (PA)

The paper described the failure to add an amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill after Cashman’s refusal to attend as “inexcusable”.

Writing in the Daily Express, former justice secretary Sir Robert Buckland said Letby’s “cynical refusal” to come into the dock added to “already heinous injury”.

He said: “The sentencing process is vitally important. It is a time for criminals to face the consequences of their behaviour.

“I strongly agree that it is better for families to be able to see the defendant and their reaction to what is being said in court, but we should not risk giving any power to the defendant to delay or even halt proceedings.”

He aired the option of a live TV link to the prisoner’s cell and increasing sentences for those who refused to attend.

That option was echoed by barrister Matthew Scott writing in the Daily Telegraph.

He said: “The law does not value the life of a murder victim according to the poignancy of the bereaved relatives’ pleas. They do however give a voice to the murderer’s victims and they represent an attempt to ensure that the murderer is made aware of the invariably catastrophic effect of their crime.

“All of these purposes could be achieved without the physical presence of the defendant, by ensuring that the murderer who refused to come to court is placed in a cell into which is broadcast the proceedings from the sentencing court.

“They would be compelled to hear, if not to listen to, the statements of the bereaved and the judge’s sentencing remarks.”

The Daily Mail called Letby’s refusal a “last act of cowardice” and said it deprived the families of the chance to “look her in the eye”.

The newspaper’s comment section said: “Although her presence could not have assuaged their grief, it would at least have brought some degree of closure.

“The Government has been promising a law to compel criminals to attend court for sentencing. It can’t come too soon.”

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