Yesterday saw a somewhat surprising announcement by Greater Manchester Police; Rebecca Leighton
, the only suspect to date in what might be an instance of serial murder at a Stockport hospital, has been released from prison, and all charges against her have been dropped.
Anyone with any legal nous who has followed this case from the beginning cannot be struck by the strange way the authorities have alluded to it in the media. While it is true the British police handle these sort of inquiries in a very different manner from say their American cousins, be they local or FBI, the word murder has curiously been noticeable throughout by its absence. The public has been told saline ampoules have been tampered with, and that a number of suspicious deaths have apparently resulted from this. It seems inconceivable that such tampering could have been accidental, indeed the word tamper implies mens rea
- a guilty mind- so why the coyness? Indeed, the word murder appears not to have been used at all by the police; Miss Leighton was charged not with murder but with sabotaging equipment with intent to endanger life, and one count of theft.
It has now been revealed that the evidence against her related to her fingerprints being found somewhere they had every right to be; although the police made noises to the effect that there is no further evidence against her at this time
, it seems likely the charges have been dropped because some of the suspect equipment could not have been sabotaged by her, which appears to indicate that like Chris Jefferies
and Lewis Sproston
she was both a very good suspect and a totally innocent one. Whatever the police or wagging tongues might say, it is clear from the statement issued by the CPS
that she has been totally exonerated from any attempts to either murder or injure patients.
Two questions that still need to be answered are was this tampering wilful, and if so, could it have been done elsewhere? A third question pertaining to this sort of thing happening in future has been answered in part by an e-mail from the relevant government department – see below.
Whatever the final outcome of this tragic affair, Greater Manchester Police are proceeding with an expanded investigation. There are sound operational reasons for the police being reluctant to release information in many investigations. The position of the body or other relevant details in a murder investigation may be known only to them and the killer, so in the event of their extracting a confession from a suspect, such information amounts to strong corroboration; in this case though, the police could certainly have released more information than they have without prejudicing or jeoparding the investigation.
If this is indeed murder, we can only hope that it is the work of one depraved individual; it is rare, but serial killers do sometimes work in pairs – killer couples – one of the most infamous being Brady and Hindley
, whose crimes were committed in neighbouring Manchester.
Although Miss Leighton has now been cleared, she remains suspended by her professional body, and it may be that it will be difficult if not impossible for her to return to work, at least not until someone else has been brought to book. This is an unfortunate reality and the inevitable result of suspicious, finger pointing and innuendo.
In one respect though she can think herself lucky; thirty and certainly forty years ago the police may well have tailored the evidence to fit, indeed that still goes on to this day to some degree. Three cases that spring to mind are those of Stefan Kiszko, who had a confession browbeaten out of him; Winston Silcott, whose unsigned confession to the Broadwater Farm murder
of PC Keith Blakelock was concocted by the police; and Michael Stone
, whose confession was fabricated by another inmate.
The police will at times dismiss or even ridicule a confession when it suits them, and won’t even bother to seek corroborative evidence from the confessor; this happens when their minds are made up, but not in the cases of either A6 Murderer James Hanratty
or cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal
Returning to the Stockport case, it is likely that it will go to sleep as far as the media is concerned, but rest assured, the police will not scale down their investigation until they have questioned and hopefully eliminated every single person who might have come into contact with the contaminated saline ampoules, however long that may take.