Prosecution ‘unlikely’ over death of Poppi

Police errors mean it is unlikely anyone will ever be prosecuted over the sudden death of toddler Poppi Worthington, an inquest has heard.

Officers had “no search strategy” when seizing crucial evidence during their investigation, Kendal Coroner’s Court was told.

Giving evidence, retired Cumbria Police detective superintendent Cath Thundercloud detailed a series of failures committed when officers visited the family home in Barrow following the 13-month-old’s death, and then during the force’s probe into how she died.

Detectives dismissed initial suspicions of child abuse and – during questioning by Gillian Irving QC, representing Poppi’s mother – Mrs Thundercloud told the court how the little girl’s death on 12 December 2012 was never treated as a murder inquiry.

She admitted there was “no appropriate systemic investigation” until August 2013, with officers failing to carry out even “common sense” checks such as emptying the washing machine, checking a washing basket for blood-stained clothing and taking swabs from the scene earlier in the investigation.

The coroner released a picture of the bed where Paul Worthington is said to have placed her before she collapsed and died

Image: Paul Worthington is said to have placed his daughter on this bed before she collapsed and died

Despite the rules and procedures for police to follow when dealing with sudden child deaths being “quite clear”, officers were said to have “chose not to bother”.

“Some of it almost beggars belief, given the relevance of it,” Ms Irving said.

Paul Clark, representing Poppi’s father Paul Worthington, said “inadequacies and failures” were found with the police investigation of the scene, the taking of exhibits, the search of the house and the taking of witness statements.

The cot where Poppi Worthington slept on December 11 and 12, 2012. Pic: Cumbria County Council

Image: The cot in which Poppi slept on December 11 and 12, 2012. Pic: Cumbria County Council

When he asked Mrs Thundercloud whether it was “almost impossible to point to anything that was done right”, she replied that it was.

She said she had since developed an action plan to ensure there was no repetition of the failings exposed, with extra training for officers, better monitoring, new “multiple agency” working procedures and a “safeguarding hub” for vulnerable adults and children.

The errors mean it is unlikely anyone will ever be prosecuted over Poppi’s death because the Crown Prosecution Service has twice ruled there is insufficient evidence.

A general view of County Hall in Kendal, where the second inquest into the death of 13-month-old Poppi Worthington has opened

Image: The inquest is taking place at County Hall in Kendal

According to a judge during family court proceedings, Mr Worthington, 49, probably sexually assaulted her before she died, but he strongly denies any wrongdoing and has never been charged with any offence.

The inquest previously heard how Poppi’s DNA had been found on Mr Worthington’s penis, which he said was from holding her and then going to the toilet.

Home Office pathologist Alison Armour told police she suspected Poppi had been sexually abused before her death, but this is disputed by other medical experts and police were said to have not taken her report “very seriously”.

The inquest has heard a sexual assault would not in itself have caused Poppi to die, but Dr Armour has suggested to the court that there were signs of asphyxia.

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However, the evidence was inconclusive and the child’s exact cause of death remains “unascertained”, with the inquest attempting to determine how she died.

The hearing continues.