On ITV’s This Morning yesterday was the latest client of the great Cliffus Maximus, nurse Rebecca Leighton from Stockport, who has been freed from custody and cleared of all charges following her arrest in July on suspicion of criminal damage with intent to endanger life. The arrest had come after five patients at Stepping Hill Hospital, where Ms Leighton worked, had died there.
The newspaper reporting of her release has been rather low key, and with good reason: the tabloids have given every appearance of overstepping the mark yet again, despite all the warnings they were given after the Christopher Jeffries case, which resulted in substantial damages being paid out for libel by eight titles, which in turn showed little had been learned from the case of Robert Murat.
Following initial reports of the deaths at Stepping Hill, and the questioning of Ms Leighton, there was a routine trawl for any information the papers could use to drive the story: her Facebook page was pored over and photos and messages repeatedly published to illustrate copy and drive a narrative suggesting that she was more interested in her social life than her work as a nurse.
From there followed the inevitable suggestion of guilt by inference: the Daily Mail published Ms Leighton’s photo below the headline “Inside the hospital of fear where a mystery poisoner stalks the wards”, with another piece suggesting many more deaths were involved ending “Coroner’s Shipman link”. And the Mirror sailed very close to the edge with their “Killer nurse suspect” headline.
Then the real nastiness came with the deliberate attempt to connect Rebecca Leighton to the Beverley Allitt case: the Super Soaraway Currant Bun told that “the ... killer may have murdered more victims than Angel of Death Beverley Allitt”, above a photo of Ms Leighton. As if the Murdoch press is not in enough hot water right now.
But pride of place has to go to the empire of Richard “Dirty” Desmond: “Now 50 Deaths To Be Probed At Poison Hospital” screamed the Express, telling that “the number may spiral into hundreds” before going on to “the probe has been compared with the 1993 conviction [my emphasis] of nurse Beverley Allitt”.
And, just in case anyone was in any doubt, the Daily Star put them straight: “Hero Nurse Nabs ‘Angel Of Death’” thundered the headline, above a photo of Ms Leighton. Small wonder that poor Rebecca Leighton cannot leave her parents’ house alone, nor that she has engaged the services of Max Clifford.
The appearance on This Morning is a first step: the Daily Mail and Mirror might get away with this one, but with Cliffus Maximus in the van, the Sun, Express and Daily Star can expect to be opening their wallets as more “substantial damages” are paid.