The deaths of two more patients are now being investigated by detectives at a hospital where it is believed medical equipment was sabotaged.
Greater Manchester Police said yesterday that a total of five people are thought to have died as a result of malicious tampering at Stepping Hill hospital, Stockport.
That number is expected to rise as more suspicious deaths that occurred recently in the two wards at the centre of the inquiry become part of the investigation, police said. One man aged 41 is still fighting for his life while a further eight patients have been made ill amid fears that saline solutions used to rehydrate them were injected with insulin.
Police were granted more time last night to continue questioning staff nurse Rebecca Leighton (27), who was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of attempted murder.
The latest suspected victims were both pensioners. The first, an 84-year-old woman, who has not been named, died on July 14. Her case was referred back to the police yesterday by the coroner after she was found to have been suffering from low blood-sugar level.
The second, Alfred Weaver (83), underwent a hypoglycaemic episode on July 11 and died yesterday morning. Mr Weaver's brother Graham and sisters Lynda and Margaret, paid tribute to the widower. "Derek was a lovely gentleman who will be deeply missed," they said in a statement.
Further pathology tests are being carried out on all five of the suspected victims, including George Keep (84), Arnold Lancaster (71), and Tracey Arden (44). Police have yet to confirm that any of them died as a result of insulin poisoning. All were suffering from other serious ailments.
Sixty detectives are working on the case with teams of officers examining forensic material and medical records. Dozens of members of staff have already been questioned by police while nurses are working in teams of two as they dispense drugs.
The deaths have sent shockwaves through the community living around the large teaching hospital in Stockport.
Assistant Chief Constable Ian Hopkins reassured anxious patients that no suspicious activity had occurred since the police were called in to investigate.