The prosecutor in charge of the Poppi Worthington case ‘strongly suspected’ she was sexually abused by her father before dying of horrific injuries.
Paul Worthington probably sexually assaulted the 13-month-old girl before she collapsed at home in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, according to a previous ruling by a family court judge.
And Nazir Afzal, who was the Crown Prosecution Service northwest chief when he approved the decision not to charge the 49-year-old parent, has now said police failures prevented a trial.
He told The Sunday Times: ‘I had a strong suspicion that Poppi died after being sexually abused by her father.
‘I was given a case file by the police that had so many gaps that I was left with no choice. I could not approve charging Worthington based on the evidence the police investigation produced.’
Mr Afzal added that work carried out by Cumbria Police at the time was ‘simply not of the same standard as other forces in the North West’.
His comments came ahead of a senior coroner today delivering his conclusions at the second inquest of Poppi – more than five years after she died.
The toddler’s controversial first inquest was quashed by the High Court and deemed ‘irregular’ after it lasted just seven minutes and did not refer to Poppi by name as her death was declared as unexplained.Before the Christmas and New Year break, a more in-depth examination of the circumstances took place as three weeks of evidence was heard at County Hall, Kendal, before David Roberts, HM senior coroner for Cumbria.
The otherwise healthy youngster woke up screaming at about 5.30am on December 12, 2012 at the family home in Barrow-in-Furness and her father, Paul Worthington, put her in his bed and went to get a fresh nappy, the inquest heard.
The girl was heard to scream before her father put her in his bed with him
When he returned, she had settled but five or 10 minutes later he reached over and she was limp or floppy. He then rushed downstairs and the child’s mother, sleeping downstairs, called an ambulance.
Paramedics carried out a ‘scoop and run’, delivering the apparently lifeless girl to Furness General Hospital at 6.11am but she never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead shortly after 7am.
Medics noted the child was bleeding from her bottom.
In January 2016 – as part of family court proceedings involving Poppi’s siblings – a judge revealed his findings that Mr Worthington probably sexually assaulted his daughter shortly before her death.
Coming out of hiding to give evidence in Kendal, the former Asda supermarket worker refused to answer 252 questions as he exercised his legal right to not say anything which may incriminate himself.
An array of expert medical witnesses also entered the witness box as the inquest was told Poppi’s cause of death remains ‘unascertained’.
The post-mortem examination findings of pathologist Dr Alison Armour – that Poppi had been penetrated and had tears in her bottom – were hotly disputed.
The inquest also heard Cumbria Police’s investigation into the death was so botched that vital evidence was lost and exactly what happened to Poppi will never be known.
Lawyers for Poppi’s mother – who cannot be named for legal reasons – and Mr Worthington both submitted to the coroner there was not enough evidence for him to conclude the toddler was unlawfully killed.
However, Gillian Irving QC, representing Poppi’s mother, argued there was ‘clear evidence’ that Poppi was subject to a ‘penetrative anal assault’.
Claiming the evidence of Dr Armour was ‘tainted’ and ‘unsafe’, Leslie Thomas QC, for Mr Worthington, said an open verdict was appropriate as there was not enough evidence to reach any other conclusion.
Mr Roberts is expected take up to three hours to deliver his conclusions from noon onwards.
‘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 – HM Senior Coroner for Cumbria, David Roberts, to give his conclusions.