Terrifyingly, we realised somebody was causing the deaths of our babies; Nurse who worked alongside serial killer Beverley Allitt reveals her years of torment.
The Birmingham nurse who worked alongside 'Angel of Death' Beverley Allitt - Britain's most prolific hospital killer - today opens her heart to the Sunday Mercury. In a special first-person article MARY REET, now 48, explains how she and husband Paul, 47, quit the UK to build a new life in New Zealand but are still haunted by guilt.
IN 1984 I started work as a staff nurse on Ward 4 in Grantham and Kesteven Hospital in Lincolnshire - an 11-ward hospital in a mostly rural community. I was a specialist in nursing children, and we took them from newborn babies right up to the age of 16.
We needed extra staff and one of the girls who came along in 1990 was Beverley Allitt, who was 22 years old. She'd done only two years of training and she wasn't a fully qualified children's nurse.
She was just average, not someone I'd seek out to spend time with.
There was something about her I didn't like but I couldn't pinpoint it.
She had a bright smile and seemed cheerful enough. She was keen to make herself indispensable, befriending worried parents and showing sympathy. I wasn't her boss but she helped out with me.
I was about to go on leave in February 1991 when seven week-old Liam Taylor was brought in, with bronchitis.
He was very poorly but he'd been given oxygen and he started to look better. Allitt was assigned to keep an eye on him and his parents were told to go home and have a rest.
"There's been a problem with baby Liam," one of the nurses told me as I returned a few days later.
"He got into trouble about 5am this morning and he's been resuscitated,' she explained.
He wasn't expected to survive. It was upsetting. It was hard to support the parents who had been told how sick he was.
"He's had a lot of brain damage as a result of the resuscitation," said the doctor. "We've done everything we can. We can keep breathing for him but he's not going to do very well."
Baby Liam died in his mother's arms on February 22. 'It must be some powerful germ he caught and we didn't recognise it,' I thought.
There was a terrible sadness when Liam died. There was no way it should have happened and we were all at a loss to know why.
The doctor was quite mystified. "I can't believe this, it shouldn't have happened. I just can't work it out,' he said, shaking his head.
The autopsy result stated Liam died of a heart attack and it was put down as natural causes.
Then, on March 5 11 year-old Tim Hardwick, who suffered from cerebral palsy and had a series of epileptic fits, was transferred to us.
"Can you sit with him please, Beverly?" I instructed Allitt. As there was no family member accompanying Tim and he was in a ward with an IV on his own, he needed someone with him at all times.
He had been really poorly, but with care he was going to be OK.
"Come and check him, I don't think he's well," Allitt said as I was just finishing up the drug round a little later. She helped me turn him on his side and he improved.
"He's stopped breathing!" Allitt called out again 45 minutes later. I checked his pulse - and there was nothing. A defibrillator was used while Allitt stood by and watched but he never came back to us.
I was shocked. It didn't seem right.
'Things are not good,' I told my husband, Paul. 'It's like a dark cloud is over the hospital. I don't understand what's going on.' Our faith has always kept us strong and that night we both prayed. I described my feelings of fear and foreboding to my friends.
'Please pray that the truth will come out,' I begged them.
The next two weeks afterwards, I was ill with a woman's complaint and ended up in the gynaecologist's ward at Grantham Hospital for a few days.
"A 15 week-old baby nearly died today," one of the nurses from my ward said when visiting me. "We need you back with us."
I started hearing of other nearmisses with babies, children who shouldn't have needed emergency resuscitation to keep them alive.
When I walked back into the ward a week later I felt the dark heavy cloud looming and I said a silent prayer for strength.
Premature twins Becky and Katie Philips were three months old when they were allowed to go home on April 5 after being cared for by Allitt.
When Becky started to have breathing problems later that evening she was brought back to the hospital, where she died. The doctor said it was an infection and he needed to check Katie.
Later, Allitt was watching Katie whose breathing suddenly stopped and she had to be revived. She was saved by the doctors but ended up brain-damaged from lack of oxygen.
Becky's death was put down to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Afterwards, Allitt became friendly with the twins' parents, Sue and Peter, and was invited to become Katie's godmother.
Over the next couple of weeks four more babies were brought back from the edge of death. One even had an abnormal amount of insulin it its system. Allitt was caring for them, or at least had some contact with them. Often she was the one who raised the alarm.
On April 18, Allitt alerted me about seven week-old Patrick Elstone.
"He's not breathing properly," she told me as she rushed from his bedside. Together, we managed to bring his breathing back by administering oxygen. I then connected an apnea monitor to him.
'Let me know if his situation changes,' I told Allitt.
"A few minutes after I left the room he stopped breathing again but the alarm never sounded - it had been switched off.
"Allitt raised the alarm again in her own time and the doctors took over. Patrick was whisked off to Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham and made a full recovery.
We realised, then, that someone was causing these incidents - it wasn't a germ or virus.
"Maybe it's another parent or there's somebody coming in from outside," said a nurse. "Sneaking through one of the doors and doing something and then sneaking away again."
Allitt took part in these conversations and appeared just as concerned as the rest of us. But we weren't looking at each other for the culprit. Security was stepped up and we were all more careful.
But, terrifyingly, our babies were still not safe.
Little 15 month-old Claire Peck, who was an asthmatic, was admitted late in April. I adored Claire - we all did. She was bubbly and beautiful and I'd got to know her well during the times she'd been in for treatment.
To hear hersweet laugh throughout the ward was a joy.
Allitt was left to care for her for a short time on April 21, the day before Claire was due to go home with her mumand dad.
Claire stopped breathing and Allitt stood watching before another nurse arrived and alerted the doctor.
Nobody could revive her.
"Oh, Mary, you won't believe this - Claire died yesterday," a doctor told me when I started my round.
He told me what had happened and it was clear that he was very distressed.
"I don't understand," I said, shaking my head.
"I know something's going on, and we've got to stop it before another child is killed," the doctor said. It was almost like it was personal now - we all adored Claire and everyone was upset.
The hospital brought in staff from another ward and it was known they were watching us.
It felt awful. Why would they think that we would do this?
Then the police got involved and pretty soon Beverley Allitt was suspended.
"Are you sure you haven't made a mistake?" I asked one of the police officers.
"Listen, if you knew what we knew, you'd know we've got it right," he said.
After Allitt was gone things calmed down - except for the press coverage. Allitt's arrest and subsequent murder charges was huge news around the world. They were vultures, and it was like living in a siege.
"We're just closing the curtains for a game," the nurses would say to the children and laugh. But it was to stop 'vultures' from taking photos.
I left the hospital soon afterwards to fulfil an ambition to be a children's nurse teacher, and in February 1993 I had to give evidence on Timothy's death and Patrick's resuscitation during Allitt's murder trial.
Anguish I held my ground against the defence cross-examination. "You did a wonderful job," the chief inspector told me.
But I felt very upset.
It was a shock to see Allitt again.
After two years she'd lost weight through anorexia. The second time I was in court she was too ill to attend and I felt there was some injustice that she wasn't in the room to hear what was said about her.
She had pleaded not guilty, but if she'd pleaded guilty she would have spared the parents going through all the anguish all over again.
Her crimes were proven beyond all doubt and were put down to Munchausen Syndrome by proxy - inflicting pain to get attention.
She had either smothered, or injected her victims with air or drugs.
She was given 13 life sentences for attacking and murdering the children - 30 years at the least.
"You have turned the hospital where you worked into a killing field," the judge said.
I felt relived it was over but understanding the behaviour doesn't take away the impact of what happened.
It didn't change her guilt.
In 2005 I suffered a brain tumour which took away my sense of smell, and even my strong Brummie accent was lost. Paul and I decided to move to New Zealand.
We'd been to visit in 2002 and thought we'd give it a go.
With Paul being a psychiatric nurse, he got a job in Dunedin. "At last I can leave that cloud behind me," I told him. We arrived in New Zealand on November 2nd and loved it. Dunedin is a beautiful place and we love the lifestyle.
But there was still the guilt I lived with for a long time.
Never in a million years would we think that one of us could have done it. What did we miss? What didn't we know about? How could I have let those children die? It's affected me really deeply.
I love being a children's nurse, I loved being with the children and helping the parents when they were struggling. These were local kids and we got to know them, like Claire. We'd see them grow.
I was there for about eight years and yet it's really hard to feel proud about what we achieved for good.
It was like all that was stolen from me, all the pride and what I'd accomplished, Allitt stole it.
It was taken away by deceit and that still hurts. Her actions were evil. Part of the kick she would've had was when those babies were brought back to life she was there, and she was the saviour.
We don't have children of our own and it's another sadness of mine. I have to rationalise it all but it's hard when I feel so much guilt.
I know it in my head but I need to believe it in my heart, and that's the hardest part.
As told to JAN MORGAN
MUNCHAUSEN BY PROXY
Munchausen by proxy syndrome involves the exaggeration or fabrication of illnesses or symptoms by a primary caregiver. The perpetrator gains satisfaction from the attention gained, and from deceiving individuals that they feel inferior to.
In Allitt's case she instigated the illness and when the child died she was able to be the saviour as she gave sympathy to the grieving parents and ingratiate her way into their lives, as she did with Becky Philips' family. She was recognised as someone of worth.
Often the perpetrator is familiar with the medical profession and can fool doctors. It is not uncommon for experienced doctors to overlook the meaning of the inconsistencies of the child's symptoms as it goes against the belief that a parent or caregiver would deliberately hurt a child.
Children who become victims of MBPS are typically pre-school age, and 98% of perpetrators are women. These women have often been treated badly as children and feel no self-worth as adults. Some say MBPS is a cry for help.
Beverley Allitt, now 36 and from Grantham, was found guilty of murdering Liam Taylor, Tim Hardwick, Becky Philips and Claire Peck.
She was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm to Kayley Desmond, Henry Chan, Chris King, Michael Davidson, Chris Peasgood and Patrick Elstone.
She was found guilty of the attempted murder of Paul Crampton, Brad Gibson and Katie Philips.
Allitt's trial judge recommended she serve a minimum term of 40 years (one of the longest minimum terms ever suggested by a trial judge, High Court judge or politician), which would keep her in prison until at least 2032 and the age of 64.
In August 2006, Allitt launched an appeal on the length of her sentence.
On December 6 2007, the High Court ruled that Allitt would have to serve at least 30 years in prison, meaning she will now have to wait until at least 2022 and the age of 54 until she can apply for parole.
She is currently being held in Rampton high-security prison in Nottinghamshire.
Liam Taylor, 7 weeks, died February 22 1991 - heart attack
Tim Hardwick, 11 years old, died March 5 1991 - heart stopped
Kayley Desmond, 15 weeks old, March 10 1991 - survived heart attack
Paul Crampton, 5 months old, March 23 1991 - survived high insulin intake
Bradley Gibson, 5 years old, March 30 1991 - survived heart attack
Henry Chan, 2 years old, April 1 1991 - survived after stopping breathing
Becky Philips, 5 weeks old, died April 5 1991 - attributed to SIDS
Katie Philips, 5 weeks old, April 5 1991 - brain damage after stopping breathing
Michael Davidson, 6 years old, April 9 1991 - survived heart attack
Chris Peasgood, 8 weeks old, April 13 1991 - survived breathing failure
Chris King, 5 weeks old, April 16 1991 - survived breathing failure
Patrick Elstone, 7 weeks old, April 18 1991 - survived breathing failure
Claire Peck, 15 months old, died April 21 1991 - heart attack
HORROR: Mary Reet as a nurse working with Beverley Allitt, right; HAUNTED: Mary Reet has made a new life with husband Paul in New Zealand
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|Publication:||Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)|
|Date:||Feb 15, 2009|
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