Tuesday 10 December 2019

Poppi Worthington: Toddler’s father could face charges as decision not to prosecute overruled

Crown Prosecution Service reviewing case of Poppi Worthington after High Court judge’s conclusion earlier this week that the 13-month-old was sexually assaulted by her father

Poppi Worthington was 13 months old when she died, right, her father Paul Worthington
Poppi Worthington was 13 months old when she died, right, her father Paul Worthington
Poppi was just 13 months old when she died
Poppi Worthington

Kim Pilling

The father of Poppi Worthington could be charged in connection with her death after the Crown Prosecution Service has announced it is to re-examine its original decision not to prosecute him.

The Crown Prosecution Service is reviewing its file on the death of Poppi Worthington following the findings of a High Court family judge who ruled the girl's father had sexually assaulted her shortly before her collapse.

Poppi was just 13 months old when she died
Poppi was just 13 months old when she died

The CPS previously decided there was "insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction" but has confirmed it is now "reviewing the case".

On Tuesday, High Court family judge Mr Justice Peter Jackson found Cumbria Police conducted no "real" investigation for nine months into the death of the toddler, who collapsed with serious injuries at her home in Barrow-in-Furness in December 2012.

The judge also ruled Poppi's father Paul Worthington had sexually assaulted her shortly before her collapse.

 CPS spokeswoman said: "We received a file from Cumbria Police, in relation to the tragic death of a 13-month-old girl in December 2012.

"We conducted a thorough review of the evidence in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors. This review included consideration of expert evidence which was carefully considered by the prosecutor who took advice from experienced counsel.

"We decided there was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and therefore no one was charged with any offences relating to her death.

"Following the findings of the Family Court judge we are now reviewing the case."

The CPS review came as the Independent Police Complaints Commission said one of three police officers investigated over the inquiry into Poppi's death could be sacked.

Following the judge's earlier criticism of the handling of the investigation which listed a string of basic errors, Cumbria Police made a self-referral to the IPCC in June 2014.

The force later confirmed that three officers were subject to the IPCC probe with one officer suspended and two others moved into different roles.

The suspended officer, believed to be then Detective Chief Inspector Mike Forrester, has since retired, one was dealt with by management action and the other was "undergoing performance proceedings".

On Thursday, the IPCC said the serving officer with the outstanding disciplinary matters could be dismissed if gross incompetence was proved.

In a statement, the IPCC said: "The IPCC undertook a thorough, independent investigation into Cumbria Constabulary's handling of a criminal inquiry into the tragic death of Poppi Worthington. The investigation report was submitted to Cumbria Constabulary in 2015.

"As a result of the evidence we presented, one serving officer is to face a third stage performance meeting - which has the power of dismissal if gross incompetence is proved. A second officer has received management action. A third officer cited in the report has since retired from the force.

"The IPCC will consider publication of its investigation report once all relevant proceedings have concluded."

Publication of the report is likely to be delayed until at least the completion of a second inquest into Poppi's death, yet to be arranged.

Poppi's death had been shrouded in secrecy with a March 2014 fact-finding civil court judgment - which contained the criticism of the police investigation - being kept private so as not to prejudice any criminal proceedings.

Meanwhile, an inquest controversially took only seven minutes to declare her death as "unexplained".

Last July, High Court judges ruled a second inquest into Poppi's death should take place after the original hearing in October 2014 called no evidence, as then coroner Ian Smith indicated he had taken account of and adopted the 2014 findings.

The CPS previously said that if any new evidence arose at the second inquest it would "consider this carefully with the police".

In his fact-finding judgment as part of care proceedings involving other children in the family, Mr Justice Jackson noted senior detectives thought a pathologist "may have jumped to conclusions" in her belief the child had been a victim of abuse.

The toddler was buried in February 2013, precluding a further post-mortem examination, after her body was released by the local coroner.

There is now said to be an "absence of evidence'' to find out how Poppi died, or definitively prove if or how she was injured.

Mr Worthington was arrested in August 2013 and questioned on suspicion of sexual assault but was not charged with any offence. He denies any wrongdoing.

Mr Justice Jackson came to his conclusions using the civil standard of proof of on the balance of probabilities.

PA Media

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