Poppi Worthington’s father claims coroner ‘overstepped the mark’

Poppi Worthington’s father claims coroner ‘overstepped the mark’ when inquest ruled he had sexually assaulted the 13-month-old before her death as he questions the hearing’s findings at the High Court

  • Paul Worthington has launched a judicial review of findings of inquest
  • Coroner ruled he had probably sexually abused his daughter before she died
  • She was found lifeless and bleeding on his bed in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria
  • His lawyers claimed the coroner ‘overstepped the mark’ when recording reasons for her death 

Paul Worthington has repeatedly been accused of abusing the 13-month old before she was found lifeless and bleeding in his double bed

Poppi Worthington’s father claims a coroner ‘overstepped the mark’ when he ruled at an inquest that he probably sexually abused the toddler before her death. 

Paul Worthington, 50, has repeatedly been accused of abusing the 13-month old before she was found lifeless and bleeding in his double bed in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria in December 2012. 

In January senior coroner David Roberts ruled the ‘fit and active’ toddler was assaulted by her father – a ruling mirroring two High Court judgements in 2014 and 2016.

Former supermarket worker Worthington, believed to be using Legal Aid, has now launched a judicial review of how the death was recorded as he took his case to the High Court, sitting in Manchester. 

Cumbria Police botched their investigation into Poppi’s death, losing vital evidence about her last hours.

However, at the conclusion of the inquest, senior coroner for Cumbria David Roberts ruled the child had been anally penetrated but that this did not cause her death.

He concluded that Poppi suffocated as she slept next to her father in an ‘unsafe sleeping environment’.

Mr Worthington’s lawyers applied for a review of the coroner’s record of inquest, the final two pages of his 87-page ruling, where the coroner must complete boxes in writing, detailing who and how the death occurred.

A coroner concluded that Poppi suffocated as she slept next to her father in an ‘unsafe sleeping environment’ and was probably sexually assaulted by him before she died

Former supermarket worker Worthington (pictured in a court artist sketch at the inquest) has now launched a judicial review of how the death was recorded as he took his case to the High Court, sitting in Manchester

Leslie Thomas QC said it was a ‘narrow’ point but not ‘academic’ and Mr Worthington was ‘entitled’ to have the matter corrected.

He argued that the coroner was wrong to include the words ‘anally penetrated’ in his record of inquest, also called an inquisition, which forms part of the official record, because, according to the law, this should only detail how the child died.

As the coroner had ruled that sexual abuse did not cause her death, those words should be taken out of the record of inquest.

Mr Thomas said: ‘We say this is an allegation of criminal conduct stuck in box three. Which should not be there. It doesn’t touch on how this little girl died.

‘What is on the record and will be kept on the record, and people tend to go to, is the inquisition, is the very end document where the findings are, and that’s incorrect.’

Poppi was found lifeless and bleeding in her father’s double bed in December 2012

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He added: ‘It is perfectly clear this was an asphyxia death. He has overstepped the mark. In this case, what’s included in box three are matters that did not cause death. Anal penetration is irrelevant to how she died. What’s it doing in box three?’

Samantha Leek QC, representing the coroner, said the anal penetration was part of the ‘wider factual matrix’ giving rise to her death and Mr Thomas was trying to restrict the record of inquest to the immediate medical cause of death.

She added: ‘She came by her death because she is brought into bed, because she’s brought into bed to be harmed.

‘Where there’s been a high-profile inquest, the central question of which is whether or not this little girl was anally penetrated and whether it caused her death, surely it is within the coroner’s discretion to include that?

Paul Worthington being smuggled into the back of court by police during the second inquest into Poppi’s death in November 2017

The little girl’s father is pictured leaving the inquest in Kendal, Cumbria in 2017 after giving evidence

‘It would be completely artificial to leave that out, it was the central issue in the inquest.’

Mr Justice Hickenbottom told the lawyers he would reserve judgment until a later date.

Mr Worthington is believed to be in hiding following publicity around his daughter’s death.

A spokesman for the Legal Aid Agency said: ‘We cannot comment on individual cases.’     

‘Irregular’ inquest, a father in hiding and an ‘unstructured’ approach by police: Timeline of Poppi’s death

Here are the key events surrounding the death of Poppi Worthington:

  • December 12 2012 – Poppi Worthington dies suddenly aged 13 months after she collapses at her home in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, and is rushed to hospital.
  • February 2013 – Poppi is buried after the coroner releases her body.
  • June 2013 – A full post-mortem report indicates the cause of death is unascertained.
  • August 2013 – Poppi’s parents are arrested and formally interviewed for the first time. Poppi’s father, Paul Worthington, is questioned on suspicion of sexually assaulting his daughter – an allegation he denies.
  • March 2014 – Fact-finding judgment on the circumstances of Poppi’s death is delivered in private as part of family court proceedings involving other children in the family. Its publication is delayed in case it prejudices any criminal trial.
  • October 2014 – HM Coroner for South Cumbria, Ian Smith – now retired – holds an inquest at Barrow Town Hall and takes just seven minutes to declare her death as unexplained after stating he was satisfied to rely on the findings of the private fact-finding judgment. The case is not listed in Poppi’s name but as ‘a child aged 13 months’.
  • January 2015 – HM Senior Coroner for Cumbria, David Roberts, confirms he will ask for a fresh inquest in a written reply to lawyers representing various media organisations who argued the October hearing was insufficient and therefore unlawful.
  • March 2015 – Cumbria Police announce no charges will be brought against anyone over Poppi’s death after they had previously passed a file to the Crown Prosecution Service for its consideration.
  • April 2015 – Paul Worthington is granted a review of the March 2014 medical evidence, which further delays publication of the original fact-finding judgment.
  • July 2015 – High Court judges order a fresh inquest into the youngster’s death after the first hearing was deemed ‘irregular’.
  • November 2015 – A hearing reviewing the medical evidence from the March 2014 court proceedings gets under way in Liverpool. Ahead of the hearing, Mr Justice Peter Jackson (now Lord Justice Peter Jackson) releases parts of his original fact-finding judgment which reveal that Cumbria Police did not conduct any ‘real’ investigation into Poppi’s death for nine months despite a senior pathologist raising concerns the girl’s injuries were caused by ‘a penetrative sexual assault’.
  • January 19 2016 – The judge announced his findings that – on the balance of probabilities – Mr Worthington had sexually assaulted Poppi shortly before her death.
  • January 21 2016 – Paul Worthington’s sister Tracy tells reporters that he has left Cumbria after being ‘hounded’. 
  • June 2016 – A Serious Case Review finds that Poppi’s mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had a ‘difficult and traumatic childhood’ in a family ‘with intergenerational experiences of neglect and abuse’. It also reveals that Paul Worthington is an ex-partner of a woman who was feared to have sexually exploited Poppi’s mother.
  • July 2016 – The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) says there is ‘insufficient evidence’ to charge Paul Worthington with any offence over his daughter’s death.
  • November 2016 – The CPS states that its decision not to charge was correct following an independent review of the evidence, prompted by a request under the victims’ right to review scheme.
  • March 3 2017 – The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) finally publishes its 2015 findings into the initial police probe over Poppi’s death. It finds the approach of senior detectives was ‘unstructured and disorganised’ and that there were enough grounds to make an arrest on the day of Poppi’s death.
  • November 27, 2017 – The second inquest starts at County Hall, Kendal, and hears more than three weeks of evidence.
  • January 15 2018 – Coroner rules Poppi was sexually abused by her father before she died, and her death was caused by asphyxia.
  • March 15 2018 – Crown Prosecution Service says there will be no further review into Poppi’s death.
  • July 17 2018 – Police find missing laptop that could prove Poppi’s father watched porn the night.
  • October 12 2018 – The laptop is found to contain ‘no evidence of criminality’.

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