Poppi Worthington's mother pleads for new case after 'grotesque' police failings

Hayley Dixon
Poppi Worthington was 13 months old when she died

The mother of Poppi Worthington last night pleaded with prosecutors to re-examine the death of her 13-month-old daughter after a coroner ruled that the girl was sexually assaulted by her father in her final hours.

After a five-year fight for answers, the coroner ruled that Paul Worthington had assaulted her before she was found dead. It is the first time that the cause of Poppi’s death in December 2012 has been fully examined.

The Crown Prosecution Service has refused to bring criminal charges because a series of police failings means there is a lack of evidence.

After the verdict, Poppi’s mother, who cannot be named, said that the “past five years have been a complete nightmare” and she was “relieved that despite there being some gaps, she is now closer to the truth, even though that truth is devastating”.

“Not knowing what happened to Poppi on that day, and knowing that there were evidence-gathering failures by the police in the very early stages of the investigation, has made things even worse,” her lawyer Fiona McGhie said.

She added that this was the third time, including two fact-finding hearings by a judge, that a court had found that Poppi had been abused. “My client hopes that the CPS will take another look at this case,” Ms McGhie said.

Paul Worthington, who denies any wrongdoing, refused to answer any questions about his daughter Poppi’s final moments at an inquest into her death Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

John Woodcock, the Labour MP for Barrow-in-Furness, where Poppi was living at the time of her death, yesterday wrote to the Home Secretary calling for a public inquiry.

Mr Woodcock said: “That little girl will probably never get justice because of grotesque failings into the police investigation into her death but we owe it to her to campaign for a public inquiry.”

Because the CPS has already re-examined the case twice, Mr Woodcock said he had “little optimism” for criminal charges, but added: “If there are people who think there is a serious chance of being able to get a conviction on the evidence available, then no stone should be left unturned.”

Yvette Cooper, Labour chairman of the home affairs select committee, said yesterday: “This is a deeply disturbing and distressing case. Poppi Worthington and her mother have been completely failed by the system. We need a full investigation into how this has gone so badly wrong.”

The coroner, who had pointed out that Mr Worthington was the only person who knew what had happened in those final hours, said that his accounts  “do not stand up to scrutiny”.

David Roberts heard evidence from more than 40 witnesses after he applied to the High Court to quash an original inquest, held in 2014, which lasted seven minutes and was shrouded in secrecy.

Paul Worthington, Poppi's father, arriving for last year's inquest in Cumbria Credit: Richard Rayner /NNP

Through his lawyers, Mr Worthington had supported the second hearing, but when his moment in court came, he refused to answer 252 questions in case might incriminate him. Poppi’s mother said last night that she was “disappointed” that he refused to give “crucial evidence”.

Recording a narrative verdict with the case of death as asphyxia caused by “unsafe sleeping conditions”, Mr Roberts said that at some time after 2.30am, Poppi was taken from her cot into the double bed, where she was assaulted. 

He said the verdict of unlawful killing was not available to him, as he would need to be satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that she had died as a result of murder or manslaughter, and he had concluded the abuse did not kill her. 

Poppi was failed by authorities almost from the moment police were informed of her death. Officers did not secure the scene and allowed vital evidence, including her nappy, to be thrown away.

Court artist sketch of Paul Worthington during the inquest at Kendal County Hall  Credit: Elizabeth Cook /PA

Despite a pathologist raising concerns that she had been sexually assaulted, a criminal investigation was not opened for eight months, meaning that no witnesses were formally interviewed. 

Nazir Afzal, who decided not to charge Mr Worthington in 2015 as head of the CPS for the North West, said at the weekend that police failures prevented a trial.

Poppi was buried after her body was released by the coroner in February 2013, despite the full inquest not having concluded, meaning her cause of death was never formally established.  

Mr Worthington has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

A CPS spokesman said: “We are aware of today’s verdict. There are no plans to review our charging decisions in relation to this case, but we would of course consider any referral from the coroner.”

Timeline: Toddler's death that triggered long-running legal case

Poppi Worthington

Click here to read about an official report that found a total lack of “professional curiosity” by health workers regarding the troubled family background of Poppi Worthington meant vital questions which might have prevented her death were never asked.

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