Cops probe 7 saline killings
They reveal 40 patients
were poisoned in hospital
By RICHARD MORIARTY
POLICE were last night hunting the saline drip killer of seven patients after nurse Rebecca Leighton — charged over three deaths — was set free.
Cops fear 40 people were poisoned at Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport, Greater Manchester.
Rebecca, 27, had been in custody since July 20 and was facing a life sentence over the "saline drip killings".
But the Crown Prosecution Service dropped all charges against her yesterday saying it was "no longer appropriate" to pursue the case.
In a statement following her release after six traumatic weeks in Styal women's prison in Cheshire, Rebecca said: "I have been living in hell — locked up in prison for something I had not done.
"It was so frustrating for me knowing that the person who has actually carried out these terrible acts is still out there. My life has been turned upside down.
"All I ever wanted to do was to pursue a profession in nursing and to care for my patients. I think it is unbelievable that anyone in the medical profession would ever put patients' lives at risk."
Cops are now continuing their hunt for the killer — who they last night revealed may have left SEVEN patients dead at the hospital and poisoned FORTY.
Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney, of Greater Manchester Police, said five patients were originally feared to have been killed on the hospital's A1 and A3 wards. Saline drips there were believed to have been contaminated with insulin.
Two of the deaths were later found not to be suspicious and Rebecca was accused over the other three.
She was charged with criminal damage intending to endanger life and alternative counts of causing damage being reckless as to whether life was endangered. The charges related to the deaths of Tracey Arden, 44, Arnold Lancaster, 71, and Derek Weaver, 83.
But since her arrest in July cops have discovered FOUR other people at the hospital may have died in a similar way. They have not been named, but police say their families have been informed.
Dead ... Tracey Arden, Derek Weaver and Arnold Lancaster
Mr Sweeney said: "We're able to identify that between June 1 and July 16 we're looking at 40 potential victims, of which seven have died. We are clear there was contamination into a number of saline products."
The police chief said officers had interviewed around 200 people and were now planning on speaking to another 500. They include staff, patients and visitors.
He added: "To prove a case you need not only to prove guilt but eliminate the possible involvement of others." The investigation may continue for months.
Mr Sweeney reassured people with loved ones at the hospital, adding: "There have been no further instances of contamination and enhanced security measures have been put in place." A hospital spokesman said the police presence on wards was still "high".
Rebecca, an acting sister who lives with boyfriend Tim Papworth, 28, above a darts shop in Stockport, had attempted to get bail last month.
Probe ... Stepping Hill Hospital
Her bus driver father David, of Denton, Manchester, even offered to put up his life savings as surety. But the judge said that despite the evidence against her being weak, he was keeping her in custody for her own protection.
Shock ... Sun on July 21, 2011
Mr Justice Henriques told the Manchester Crown Court hearing the evidence against her amounted to her fingerprints being on a saline bag damaged by a needle.
But he said "many people" had access to the saline bags and there were other fingerprints.
Rebecca's lawyer Simon Csoka said: "I do suggest there is no case to answer." But Judge Henriques said he wanted "things to settle down" before a new application for bail was made.
Cops who quizzed Rebecca when she was first arrested had already questioned if the evidence was strong enough to charge her.
A CPS spokeswoman said last night: "The Crown Prosecution Service has decided it is no longer appropriate to continue the case.
"The investigation into the deaths at the hospital continues."