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Friday, 14 December 2018

High Court rejects bid from Poppi Worthington's father to remove details of sexual abuse

Written by Pat Hurst

A High Court judge has rejected a bid by the father of Poppi Worthington to remove details of her sexual abuse and change the official record of her death, and instead ordered him to pay costs for bringing a judicial review.

Paul Worthington's lawyers claimed David Roberts, Senior Coroner for Cumbria, had "overstepped the mark" at the inquest into the 13-month-old's death over how he officially recorded the reasons for her death at the conclusion of her inquest in January.

But Mrs Justice Farbey, sitting at the High Court in Manchester, ruled the coroner's approach "cannot be faulted" and in a 17-page legal judgment, ordered Mr Worthington - who is on Legal Aid - should pay the court costs, subject to his ability to pay.

Mr Worthington, 50, a former supermarket worker, last week took his case to the High Court, where he was represented by high-profile barrister Leslie Thomas QC before three judges.

Coroner Mr Roberts ruled in January that Poppi 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, but this did not cause her death.

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

The ruling mirrored the findings of two earlier High Court judgments.

During the inquest, Mr Worthington refused to answer questions about his daughter's death 252 times, so as not to incriminate himself.

His lawyers had applied for a judicial 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 how the death occurred.

As the coroner had ruled sexual abuse did not cause her death, the words "anally penetrated" should be taken out of the record of inquest, because according to the law, this should only detail how the child died.

Samantha Leek QC, representing the coroner, argued the anal penetration was part of the "wider factual matrix" giving rise to her death and the original record should stand, and the judges agreed.

Mrs Justice Farbey's ruling said: "In our view, neither the coroner's approach nor his conclusion can be faulted.

"The coroner was entitled - and in our respectful view, right - to conclude that it was appropriate to include in... the record of inquest references to anal penetration in the hours before Poppi's death because it was essential to explain why Poppi was in the unsafe sleeping environment which caused her death.

"In our view, he did not err in law in including references to anal penetration."

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

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has ruled out bringing charges through lack of evidence.

Mr Worthington, who did not attend the judicial review on Tuesday or last week's hearing, has received police protection and is believed to be living in secret following publicity over his daughter's death.

Fiona McGhie, a lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Poppi's mother - who cannot be named for legal reasons, said on her behalf: "The years since Poppi died have been a complete nightmare for her.

"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.

"Although the latest inquest brought her closer to the devastating truth, it is likely that she may never get full closure on exactly what happened that night.

"She was left disappointed that Poppi's father chose to rely on his right not to answer many questions which may have incriminated him at the inquest, and while she understands he was entitled to do this, she considers that the coroner's inquiry was frustrated by this.

"She was very disappointed that he tried to challenge the coroner rather than accepting his findings, but is relieved at today's decision."

Mr Worthington denies any wrongdoing and has never been charged with any offence.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Elizabeth Cook / PA Wire.