Lucy Letby’s scribbled notes are the only glimpse into her twisted mind – and her morbid urge to feed off the parents’ pain, writes forensic psychiatrist DR SOHOM DAS who says she is the most extraordinary case he’s ever encountered
- EXCLUSIVE: Dr Sohom Das thinks Post-it notes weren’t nurse’s attempt to end killing spree
- Forensic psychiatrist says scrawls give insight into baby killer’s psyche
The closest Lucy Letby is ever likely to come to a confession of her depraved thoughts and intentions are the Post-it notes crammed with her minute scrawls.
Detectives have suggested that these scraps of evidence were left for police to find in her semi-detached house in Westbourne Road, Chester, in an oblique but deliberate attempt to bring her spree of killing to an end.
Though I have great respect for the police force’s painstaking case against this heinous killer, I can’t agree with their interpretation.
Those scribbled notes are, quite simply, a glimpse into Lucy Letby’s psyche.
As a forensic psychiatrist, it’s my job to treat and rehabilitate what some call the ‘criminally insane’, many of whom assault, rob, rape and even kill. My work takes me to high-security prisons and securely locked hospital wards across the country, as well as inside courtrooms giving evidence as an expert witness.
Lucy Letby, 33, will die in prison after being handed 14 whole-life orders for murdering seven babies and attempting to kill six others at a neonatal unit
Dr Sohom Das is a forensic psychiatrist and thinks the baby killer’s ‘scribbled notes are, quite simply, a glimpse into Lucy Letby’s psyche’
In my career, I have examined four women who murdered babies. All of them were suffering from psychotic delusions so severe that their grip on reality had broken.
READ MORE: How did Lucy Letby become a baby murderer? The church-going ‘vanilla killer’ who holidayed with her parents and slept surrounded by teddy bears was nicknamed the ‘Innocent One’ by friends
Killer nurse Lucy Letby was considered by her friends to be ‘studious’ and ‘goofy’
That is not what we’re seeing in these Post-it notes. There is no evidence here of a mental illness so serious that it might reduce Letby’s criminal culpability.
What does leap out at me are the expressions of self-hatred, guilt, shame and self-loathing, along with a low self-confidence – what psychiatrists call ‘negative cognitions’. We see it in phrases such as ‘I don’t deserve Mum + Dad’, ‘Hate myself’, ‘I am a horrible evil person’, ‘I don’t deserve to live’ and ‘The world is better off without me’.
Down the right-hand side of the green note she has added annotations in capital letters: ‘NO HOPE’, ‘DESPAIR’, ‘PANIC’, ‘FEAR’, ‘LOST’.
Two overlapping reasons combine to explain such outbursts. The first, though this in no way diminishes the wickedness of her actions, is a modicum of awareness that what she has done is too terrible to imagine.
She says: ‘There are no words. I am an awful person – I pay every day for that.’
A tiny part of her, though it conflicted with what she was actually doing to those babies, appears to be feeling guilt. Perhaps that is why the words are squeezed on to such small pieces of paper: As well as self-pity, they represent her conscience – and that was very limited in scope and size.
There wasn’t enough guilt to stop her from continuing to kill, nor enough to make her admit what she had done during the trial. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a sliver of her subconscious mind that was conflicted.
Some of the thoughts are contradictory. She writes: ‘I haven’t done anything wrong.’ But a few lines later, she admits: ‘I AM EVIL. I DID THIS’
In some of her scribblings, particularly on a page torn from a notebook and covered closely on both sides, Letby repeatedly writes the names of her cats, Tigger and Smudge
The words that run into each other, the repeated loops and letters, the ‘HELP’ and ‘HATE’ overlaid in heavy black writing, and the overall intensity are all signs of a mind in turmoil
Police recovered Letby’s diary and her notes in her semi-detached house in Westbourne Road, Chester
The second possible explanation is the obvious signs of depression and anxiety in these frantic scribblings.
READ MORE: Lucy Letby’s parents may never return to family home where killer grew up and her mother is ‘determined’ to move 250 miles away to be close to prison where her daughter will be locked up until she dies
Such negative thoughts are a common expression of depression. It’s quite likely that she didn’t know what was going to happen when she started writing on these Post-it notes.
One of them is headed ‘Not Good Enough’, and she might have begun with the intention of just jotting a couple of thoughts down, before they exploded out of her in this chaotic and, possibly, cathartic rush.
The words that run into each other, the repeated loops and letters, the ‘HELP’ and ‘HATE’ overlaid in heavy black writing, and the overall intensity are all signs of a mind in turmoil.
But even if she was suffering from depression, the symptoms were not severe enough to stop her from functioning normally.
To colleagues at the hospital, she didn’t seem unduly stressed in her high-pressure role of supposedly caring for babies on the precipice of death.
Some of the thoughts are contradictory. She writes: ‘I haven’t done anything wrong.’ But a few lines later, she admits: ‘I AM EVIL. I DID THIS.’ The battle between right and wrong is palpable. We, of course, know which won.
I have seen cases where people have committed crimes and later convinced themselves that the actions they remember never actually happened. That’s not true of Lucy Letby.
She knows deep down that she murdered those seven babies and harmed many more, but she is deeply invested in her own lies and the idea of her innocence – so completely that she feels aggrieved that anyone could doubt her words.
Dr Das believes Letby’s true motivations to kill are power, control and the thrill of being around the grieving process
This is a well-known contradiction in many people who commit less serious crimes, such as financial fraud: they have got away with it for so long that, although they know they are guilty, they feel it’s unreasonable for anyone to accuse them.
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It’s a kind of narcissistic entitlement, of believing they’re above the law. There is also evidence of clinical psychopathy.
In other words, she is a remorseless killer, guilty of unprecedented crimes, but that does not mean she automatically has all the typical traits of a psychopath.
Some of the common ones appear to be missing: She was not sexually promiscuous, for example, nor does she seem to be a generally parasitic and deceptive individual across every aspect of her life.
Of course, she lied consistently to police and throughout her trial, but there was a rational reason for that – she was trying to hide her crimes. There’s no sign in these notes that she lies for the sake of it, or that she weaves a fantasy world.
She may understand, at least as a plain fact, that what she did was morally repugnant.
We call that ‘cognitive empathy’, knowing when other people are suffering. But clearly she lacks all ‘emotive empathy’ and cannot feel what others are feeling.
Their pain does not make her suffer: In fact, she gains some enjoyment from it.
I’ve spent hours trying to understand Letby’s motives. Many experts have seized on one sentence in particular: ‘I killed them on purpose because I’m not good enough to care for them.’
But it’s a mistake to take that at face value. It is not an explanation, only an outburst of self-pity.
Her true motivations, I believe, are power, control and the thrill of being around the grieving process.
There’s evidence of vitriolic anger or jealousy towards the happy family unit, expressed in the words: ‘I’ll never have children or marry, I’ll never know what it’s like to have a family.’
READ MORE: ‘The pain is immeasurable’: The harrowing statements of babies’ parents that serial killer Lucy Letby was too cowardly to hear in court
We know that Letby wanted to be present when parents were overwhelmed by grief, even when the dead babies had not been her own patients.
She even sent one family a sympathy card after murdering their premature baby. Clearly, there’s a morbid urge to feed off their pain.
Yet she is not blind to emotion. In some of her scribblings, particularly on a page torn from a notebook and covered closely on both sides, Letby repeatedly writes the names of her cats, Tigger and Smudge.
The animals were a way for her to show affection and emotion, while remaining completely in control.
Lucy Letby is the most extraordinary and unique clinical case I have encountered. From what we know of her life, before concerns began to be raised about the baby deaths, nothing about her struck people as strange.
She was not aggressive or impulsive, paranoid or cantankerous.
Colleagues thought of her as friendly and approachable, diligent as well as competent.
I doubt whether we will ever fully understand her. Because she will never leave prison, she is unlikely to get the kind of intensive psychiatric support that could lead to real remorse.
Without that, it’s very unlikely she could have an epiphany that explains what she has done.
The only insight into her poisoned, twisted mind that we are ever likely to have lies in these bizarre Post-it notes.
Dr Sohom Das is the author of In Two Minds: Stories Of Murder, Justice And Recovery From A Forensic Psychiatrist; YouTube: www.youtube.com/@APsychForSoreMinds; Twitter/X: @Dr_S_Das
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