Page last updated at 18:36 GMT, Wednesday, 14 April 2010 19:36 UK

Dutch nurse Lucy De Berk acquitted of patient murders

Lucy de Berk, after her acquittal (14 April 2010)
Lucy de Berk said she would have to let the ruling "sink in a little while"

A Dutch nurse who was jailed for life in 2003 for the murders of seven patients and the attempted murders of another three has been acquitted.

An appeals court in Arnhem ruled that there was no evidence that Lucy de Berk had committed a crime in all 10 cases.

The Supreme Court called for a review in 2008 after evidence came to light suggesting that all the deaths could in fact be explained by natural causes.

The prosecution service said a senior official had apologised to Ms De Berk.

"This judgment means that Lucy de Berk has spent six-and-a-half years in jail as an innocent person," it added. "It is important that Lucy de Berk is financially compensated as soon as possible."

The acquittal marks one of the biggest miscarriages of Dutch justice.

Bogus statistics

"I'll have to let it sink in a little while," Ms De Berk told reporters after the Arnhem Appeals Court cleared her of all charges on Wednesday.

During last month's retrial, prosecutors conceded that the evidence they had used to build their original case was flawed, and that they had not been flexible enough after they became convinced of her guilt when investigating the deaths.

The court believes that investigations have uncovered no facts or circumstances that could give grounds for suspecting an unnatural cause
Arnhem Appeals Court ruling

The 49-year-old was first arrested in 2001 after the death of a baby in her care at a hospital in The Hague, which was thought to be a poisoning.

Afterwards, investigators found what they thought was a trend of suspicious deaths among 13 patients - all of whom were very young and disabled, or very old and in poor health - treated by Ms De Berk in the previous four years. Five others almost died in what investigators said were suspicious circumstances.

In 2003, she was convicted of four murders and three attempted murders, and sentenced to life in prison.

Part of the evidence against Ms De Berk was the testimony of a statistician, who said the odds were 342 million-to-one that it was a coincidence she had been on duty when all the incidents occurred.

Then in 2004, an appeals court convicted her of three additional counts of murder and upheld the life sentence.

The Supreme Court, which had upheld her conviction in 2006, eventually ordered a review of Ms De Berk's case in October 2008, calling into doubt statistical evidence about the chances of her innocence and the cause of death of the baby.

On Wednesday, the judges said it was impossible that the baby had been killed in 2001, "much less that the baby's death was the result of intentional action".

"With respect to the other deaths and life-threatening incidents, the court believes that investigations have uncovered no facts or circumstances that could give grounds for suspecting an unnatural cause," they added.

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