Sunday 16 December 2018

Mother urges review in Poppi case after third court ruling that toddler was abused

Poppi Worthington collapsed in at her home in 2012 PA / family handout
Poppi Worthington collapsed in at her home in 2012 PA / family handout

Kim Pilling and Pat Hurst

The mother of Poppi Worthington has called for prosecutors to look again at her daughter's case after a third court judgment that she was sexually assaulted before her death.

On Monday, the senior coroner for Cumbria concluded the 13-month-old toddler was anally penetrated in her father's double bed at the family home in Barrow-in-Furness in the early hours of December 12 2012.

The ruling on the balance of probabilities effectively mirrored two earlier fact-finding judgments by a High Court family judge in 2014 and 2016 that Poppi's father, Paul Worthington, 50, abused his daughter shortly before her death.

Coroner David Roberts ruled out penetration as the cause of death and said Poppi suffocated as she slept next to her father for a significant period of time in an "unsafe sleeping environment".

Poppi was in such a position that her breathing was compromised, either due to the position of the bedclothes, her position in the bed or overlaying, or a combination of all three, he said.

In a narrative conclusion, Mr Roberts said: "The deceased was at her home address when, at some time after 2.30am, she was taken from her cot to a double bed where she was anally penetrated.

"She subsequently went to sleep in the double bed with an adult sleeping close to her. She was suffering from an upper respiratory tract infection and her ability to breathe was compromised by her unsafe sleeping environment."

He added she was discovered to have stopped breathing shortly before 5.56am and had gone into cardiac arrest before she was pronounced dead more than a hour later at Furness General Hospital.

Mr Worthington only answered a handful of questions when he gave evidence at the inquest - exercising his right against potential self-incrimination - but he told previous hearings that he moved Poppi from her cot into the main bedroom after she woke during the night while Poppi's mother was asleep downstairs.

He had previously told the family court he had gone to bed earlier with his laptop - which was not recovered by police - where his usual routine was to check football scores and Facebook updates, and also look at "X-rated adult stuff for 10 minutes before I go to sleep".

Mr Worthington, who is in hiding, has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any offence following a bungled investigation by Cumbria Police in which vital evidence was not gathered.

Following Mr Roberts' conclusions the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said there were no plans to review its charging decisions, although Cumbria Police Chief Constable Jerry Graham said the force would have "early discussions" with the CPS to "determine possible courses of action".

In a statement, Fiona McGhie, solicitor for Poppi's mother - who cannot be identified for legal reasons - said: "This is now the third time a court has found, on the balance of probabilities, that Poppi was anally penetrated prior to death and my client hopes that the CPS will take another look at this case.

"She is grateful to the coroner for his thoroughness throughout the inquest and she is relieved that despite there being some gaps she is now closer to the truth, even though that truth is devastating."

A second inquest was ordered after the toddler's controversial first inquest in October 2014 was quashed by the High Court and deemed "irregular".

Held by a different coroner, it lasted just seven minutes and did not refer to Poppi by name as her death was declared as unexplained.

Press Association

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