Press Abuse Victims

Victims’ stories: Rebecca Leighton

Rebecca Leighton, a nurse at Stepping Hill hospital, was dubbed the ‘Angel of Death’, ‘killer nurse’, and ‘saline serial killer’ by the press. The Daily Mail asked its readers on its front page, ‘Did this Nurse Murder Three Patients?’ Leighton was arrested and then charged with causing damage with intent to endanger life. She was held in custody for 6 weeks but the charges were then dropped and she was released due to lack of evidence. On September 21 she spoke to This Morning about what happened and particularly about her portrayal in the press.

See the full The Morning interview here.

Ms Leighton described her experience as “living hell”. She was suspended from her job (her suspension was lifted, but she was suspended again on separate allegations). She had to move out of her home. She told This Morning that she cannot walk down the street on her own without feeling frightened. She does not leave the house without having someone with her. In early August she was refused bail for her own protection.

As well as headlines and stories that appeared to confirm Ms Leighton’s guilt, the press published photographs that, out of context, made her seem lascivious, licentious and irresponsible – just the sort of person who might be a ‘saline serial killer’.

These included one of her with a toy gun in her mouth (published by The Daily Mail before Ms Leighton was charged), and various pictures of her drinking alcohol at parties.

Since she was released the press have not yet apologized for their coverage of Ms Leighton.

Coverage of Ms Leighton has been written about elsewhere by the INFORRM blog, by Politicised Correctly, and by Angry Mob.

In addition to whether Ms Leighton deserved such ‘trial by media’, there are questions about the coverage which remain unanswered:

– Were the stories, published after Leighton’s arrest, which clearly gave the impression that she was guilty, in contempt of court?
– Given her Facebook account was locked, how did the press manage to gain access to it?
– Were the press in breach of copyright when they published personal pictures from Ms Leighton’s Facebook profile?
– On what basis did the Daily Mail claim that Ms Leighton’s boyfriend had been quizzed about child porn?

We are grateful to INFORRM for the links to other coverage.

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