Nurse quizzed over British hospital deaths as probe widened

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British police questioned a nurse on suspicion of murder for a third day Friday after the deaths of five hospital patients, as officers widened their investigations into contaminated saline solution.

Officers have until 9:05 pm (2005 GMT) Friday to quiz Rebecca Leighton, 27, before they have to release or charge her, or apply for more time.

Leighton was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of murder over the deaths of three patients at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport, outside Manchester in northwest England.

Police confirmed Thursday they were linking two further deaths to the investigation. Derek Weaver, 83, died earlier that day while the second patient, an 84-year-old woman, died on July 14.

The Manchester Evening News reported that all deaths at the hospital since the first one on July 7 were now being investigated by the coroner, more than 50 cases in total, and all future deaths would be referred to him.

Officers believe someone deliberately tampered with a batch of saline, contaminating it with insulin.

Ten other patients at the hospital have been affected, including a 41-year-old man, who is in critical condition.

British newspapers have painted a picture of Leighton as a party girl, with reports saying she described herself on her Facebook page as a "happy go lucky kinda gal".

Describing her job as a nurse, she says: "god it hard work x". In another posting, she reportedly wrote: "I hate nights -- can't wait for the weekend."

But friends have defended her on the Internet, with one reportedly writing on her Facebook page: "You wouldnt harm a fly and everyone that knows you knows this to be true. We are all behind you kid."

Police were called in to the hospital last week after a nurse reported a higher than normal number of patients on her ward with "unexplained" low blood sugar levels, pointing to saline containers being sabotaged.

Insulin was later found in a batch of 36 saline vials in a store room.

Security has been stepped up at the hospital and staff are working in pairs to check and administer drugs.

The rules have been changed so a single key holder has to be asked for access to locked drugs cabinets and names and times are being taken each time drugs are given to patients.

The deaths at Stepping Hill hospital have sparked comparisons with the murders carried out by nurse Beverly Allitt two decades ago.

Allitt was given 13 life sentences in 1993 for murdering four children by administering fatal doses of insulin and attempting to murder nine other people at a hospital in Lincolnshire, eastern England.

However, the former detective who headed the investigation into that case denied that the Stepping Hill deaths could be a copycat killings.

"The only similarities are that they're both in hospital environments and there is the use of insulin," retired detective superintendent Stuart Clifton told the local Real Radio station on Friday.

"One of the difficulties there's going to be in Stockport is ascertaining whether the insulin poisoning actually caused the death.

"In the Beverly Allitt case, we were talking about babies that were essentially less than 12 months old and not expected to die.

"At Stockport, the situation is somewhat different in that you have older people that are in there with medical conditions."

Police Assistant Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said on Thursday that after their initial inquiries, detectives may have to look at deaths that occurred before the first death linked to the contaminated solution on July 7.

"Our focus at the moment is about preventing any further harm to patients within the hospital, and the investigation to bring to justice the person who has committed these deliberate acts," he said.

"Once we've achieved those two aims then we will look historically at cases prior to July 7."

© 2011 AFP

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