AN intensive care nurse cleared of killing patients in her care told how she acted on the authority of a senior doctor.

Former sister Kathleen Atkinson was sacked for deliberately killing patients, including a dying schoolgirl, by withdrawing drugs.

But the 52-year-old told an employment tribunal yesterday how she was given permission by a night-shift doctor to "just do it", hours before a woman died.

Mrs Atkinson, who worked at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary for 18 years, said she was told by a resident doctor to use her own discretion to administer drugs.

The hearing heard how the former nurse was arrested and charged with the attempted murders of two patients and incitement to kill another, following a disciplinary hearing in 1996. All charges were later dropped.

The tribunal heard that 69-year-old Mary Burdon died in 1991 following a second dose of morphine within the space of an hour-and-a-half, when she was under the care of Mrs Atkinson.

Consultant Dr Steven Cook earlier told the tribunal that he was horrified at what she had done and she was sacked.

Patricia Dryden, 15, was admitted with 50 per cent burns to her body following an explosion.

The hearing was told that Mrs Atkinson was overheard to say: "We won't use adrenaline because Patricia Dryden is going to die anyway."

The 52-year-old, of Stadium Villas, Wallsend, is claiming unfair dismissal.

In May 2001, Newcastle coroner David Mitford recorded an open verdict on the death of Mary Burdon, 69, of North Shields, in 1991; a verdict of natural causes on the death of Claire Marsh, 14, from Bear Park, County Durham, in 1995, and a verdict of accidental death in the case of Patricia Dryden, 15, from Blyth, Northumberland, in 1995.

In the case of Gladys Ward, 77, from Lancashire, he recorded a verdict of death by natural causes, contributed to by neglect.

The tribunal continues.