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The Daily Mail’s Lucy Letby podcast makes for queasy listening

Its pious concern masking voyeuristic excitement, the in-depth trial coverage is typical “true crime entertainment”.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

When the jury reached a verdict in the trial of Lucy Letby, now convicted of murdering seven babies in her time as a neonatal nurse at the Countess of Chester Hospital, there was a flurry of media interest: the distressing story provoked page after page of newspaper coverage, hours of rolling broadcasts.

A Panorama documentary, Lucy Letby: The Nurse Who Killed, was shown on BBC One just hours after her guilt was decided by the court, and multiple podcast series offered updates on the trial – including short, factual bulletins from BBC Merseyside and the Daily Mail’s The Trial of Lucy Letby, which has released close to 60 episodes since October last year, and has continued publishing content since the trial came to a close.

This series, hosted by the journalists Liz Hull and Caroline Cheetham, positions itself as a contemporary form of court reporting, but is also in the business of turning a live story into what we might queasily call “true crime entertainment”.

“This is a podcast about one of the most anticipated criminal trials for years – it involves the most shocking of crimes”: so runs the introduction to each episode. “Anticipated” is a word more commonly applied to a buzzy new novel or a blockbuster movie. This register – pious concern masking voyeuristic excitement; furrowing one’s brow while licking one’s lips – will be familiar to anyone who has encountered a true crime series in the past.

The series’s attempts to present itself as a public service dealing strictly in facts – an early episode explains, “We should say the reason we’re doing this is because a court case like this is so detailed, so vast, that there’s no way a single news report or a broadcast piece can contain all the information that we’re going to hear over the course of the next [several] months” – are undermined by this hand-rubbing tone. The dangling of each piece of evidence as it is presented in court encourages the listener to position themselves as detective. It’s a deeply uncomfortable listen – in every sense.

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The Trial of Lucy Letby
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This article appears in the 30 Aug 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Tax Con

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