Tuesday 16 October 2018

Pathologist accused of jumping to 'sex abuse' conclusions over toddler's fatal injuries

Poppi Worthington collapsed in at her home in 2012 PA / family handout
Poppi Worthington collapsed in at her home in 2012 PA / family handout
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

A doctor who first raised concerns about the sudden death of Poppi Worthington rushed to judgment over potential child abuse and lost her professionalism, a court has heard

Home Office pathologist Alison Armour jumped to conclusions at the post-mortem examination on the 13-month-old and her views became "tainted" after police told her of "unsubstantiated" allegations about her father, Paul Worthington, the girl's inquest at Kendal Coroner's Court was told.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Poppi Worthington's father, Paul Worthington, giving evidence at Kendal County Hall in Cumbria
Photo: Elizabeth Cook/PA Wire
Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Poppi Worthington's father, Paul Worthington, giving evidence at Kendal County Hall in Cumbria Photo: Elizabeth Cook/PA Wire

Dr Armour concluded that Poppi, who was bleeding when rushed to hospital, had suffered from serious injuries to her bottom area.

The toddler collapsed at home in Barrow, Cumbria, in the early hours of December 12 2012, and was pronounced dead in hospital an hour later.

Mr Worthington, 49, was ruled to have probably sexually assaulted her before her death, according to a judge during family court proceedings.

Detectives at Cumbria Police, who dismissed Dr Armour's initial suggestion of child abuse as "rash", botched their investigation which meant vital evidence was lost, and the Crown Prosecution Service has twice ruled there is now insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone over Poppi's death.

Her father, who is now in hiding, has never been charged with any offence and denies any wrongdoing.

His lawyer, Leslie Thomas QC, said two fractures to Poppi's right leg, only discovered after her death, could have been caused accidentally, according to at least three other medical experts.

Yet Dr Armour's report concluded: "This girl was the victim of a physical assault."

Mr Thomas said this was a conclusion which, on the evidence, she was not entitled to make.

He said: "You can't just jump to the conclusion that this physical injury was as a result of physical assault. The injuries Poppi had may be completely innocent. It may be her parents weren't watching.

"How did you come to that conclusion?"

Dr Armour replied: "Poppi was under 18 months of age. Fractures identified in children under 18 months are typically associated with abuse.

"There was no injury or circumstance that account for the injury. There was more than one fracture. That's why I say what I do and still do today."

Mr Thomas continued: "You have approached this case with a particular mindset and that is betrayed by what you say about the fractures.

"You have lost your professionalism and objectivity."

Dr Armour replied: "I totally disagree with you, sir. You are very wrong to call my objectivity and professionalism into question."

Before Dr Armour carried out her post-mortem examination, she was told by police of two items of intelligence of a sexual nature relating to Mr Worthington that proved, later, to be, "completely without foundation".

Mr Thomas continued: "I'm going to lay my cards on the table. You, out of all the experts who have looked at this case, and there's been a number, you are the only one who says in the clearest terms that Poppi was the victim of being sexually assaulted.

"I'm going to suggest, Dr Armour, you, before you conducted your post-mortem, you had been tainted? You may have been influenced by what you were told?"

Dr Armour replied: "No, not at all in any way."

Mr Thomas added: "I'm suggesting that has influenced you. You can't unknow what you have been told."

The witness replied: "It absolutely did not influence me in any way, shape or form."

Mr Thomas said Dr Armour was a "single voice" among the experts in her view that post-mortem evidence showed tears inside the child's bottom and they represented "significant" injuries.

"Again you are on your own there, aren't you?" he added.

Dr Armour replied: "I am, sir. I don't think they disagree with my findings, they disagree with my interpretation of the findings."

A sexual assault as suggested would not cause itself cause Poppi to die but Dr Armour has suggested there were signs of asphyxia.

However the evidence was inconclusive and the toddler's exact cause of death remains "unascertained" and the inquest will try to determine how she died.

The hearing continues.

Press Association

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