Poppi Worthington WAS sexually abused before she died and only dad knows what happened – coroner’s crucial verdict
WARNING – EXPLICIT AND UPSETTING CONTENT: An inquest heard Cumbria Police’s investigation into the 13-month-old’s death was so botched vital evidence was lost and exactly what happened to the tot will never be known
Poppi Worthington was anally penetrated by her dad hours before dying from asphyxia, a senior corner concluded today.
The “fit and active” 13-month-old was in an “unsafe” sleeping environment after being taken from her cot and placed on her parents’ double bed in 2012.
She suffered bleeding, bruising and tears to her bottom caused by sexual assault before she died, senior coroner David Roberts said.
Mr Roberts gave his conclusions today following a three-week inquest before Christmas, at which Poppi’s father Paul Worthington refused to answer 252 questions about his daughter’s death or how her DNA came to be on his penis.
The inquest also heard Cumbria Police’s investigation into the tot’s death was so botched vital evidence was lost and exactly what happened to Poppi will never be known.
“The deceased died as a result of her ability to breathe being compromised by an unsafe sleeping environment,” Mr Roberts said as he recorded a narrative verdict.
The ruling did not conclude the tot was unlawfully killed.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) last year said senior detectives were “unstructured and disorganised” from the outset.
Poppi’s mum, who cannot be named for legal reasons, looked red-eyed and close to tears for much of today’s three-hour hearing.
She left court twice – first when graphic medical evidence about her daughter was discussed and later when the Mr Roberts reached his conclusion the tot had been anally penetrated before her death.
In 2016, a family court judge said Mr Worthington “probably” sexually abused Poppi before her death in 2012. Mr Worthington has always strenuously denied these claims.
The toddler’s first inquest – when her death was ruled as “unexplained” – was quashed by the High Court and deemed “irregular” after it lasted just seven minutes and did not refer to Poppi by name.
Today, a second inquest into the death of the 13-month-old – more than five years after she died – came to a “narrative” conclusion.
Before Christmas, 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.
Among several points he said: “I find that anal penetration was the cause of Poppi’s bleeding…penetration caused the bruising, tears and bleeding.”
He further found Poppi did not die during or shortly after penetration, he said, as “there must have been a period of bleeding afterwards”.
He continued: “Only Paul Worthington can provide an account of what happened upstairs. All his accounts suggest at some point he removed her from her cot to his bed.
“His accounts differ and I was unable to form a view on his honesty and credibility because he answered so few of my questions.”
The coroner added he finds many elements of Paul Worthington’s accounts of his actions with Poppi in his bedroom are not credible.
He said he thinks the broad sequence of events were that Poppy was taken from her cot, placed on the double bed and penetrated – which is when she cried out and this was the scream the mother heard.
Among key points the coroner made, Mr Roberts stated today:
- Retired Det Supt Catherine Thundercloud reviewed the police investigation and found it lacking – a finding not disputed by Cumbria PoliceWith regard to Poppi’s DNA found on Paul Worthington’s penis, he does not believe this assists him because it could have been transferred during urination following his attempts at CPR
- Paul Worthington was within his rights to refuse to answer the questions put to him during the inquest – and he “draws no adverse inference” of him for it
- He watched Paul Worthington closely throughout but says he was unable to conclude definitively on his honesty
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 put her in his bed and went to get a fresh nappy, the inquest heard.
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 lifeless girl to Furness General Hospital at 6:11am. 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 by anal penetration shortly before her death.
Mr Worthington has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any offence as the Crown Prosecution Service say there is insufficient evidence.
Coming out of hiding to give evidence, 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.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) last year said senior detectives were “unstructured and disorganised”, and highlighted the lengthy delay into a criminal investigation taking place “despite there being significant suspicious circumstances from the outset'”.
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.
During the second inquest, Worthington, under Rule 22 of the Coroners (Inquests) Rules 2013, was not obliged to answer any questions tending to incriminate him.
The former supermarket nightshift worker repeatedly replied with the same stock answer: “I refer to my previous statements under Rule 22.”
During one exchange, Kate Stone, representing the mother, asked him: “Why did you hurt your daughter, Mr Worthington?”
The witness shook his head as he delivered his stock reply.
He has never been charged with any offence and denies any wrongdoing.
In a statement, Mr Worthington’s lawyers, Farley Solicitors, said: “Mr Worthington is considering his options following the coroner’s conclusion today and we are advising him not to say anything further at this point.”