Toddler was sexually assaulted before death, coroner rules

Poppi Worthington. Picture: family handout/PA
Poppi Worthington. Picture: family handout/PA

The mother of Poppi Worthington has called for prosecutors to look again at her daughter’s case after a third court judgment decided that she was sexually assaulted before her death.

The senior coroner for Cumbria yesterday found the 13-month-old toddler was anally penetrated in her father’s double bed at the ­family home in Barrow-in-Furness in the early hours of 12 December, 2012.

The ruling on the balance of probabilities effectively ­mirrored two earlier fact-­finding judgments by a High Court family judge in 2014 and 2016 that Poppi’s father Paul Worthington abused his daughter shortly before her death.

Coroner David Roberts yesterday ruled out penetration as the cause of death.

He said Poppi suffocated as she slept next to her 50-year-old father for a significant period of time in an “unsafe sleeping environment”.

Poppi was in such a position that her breathing was compromised, either due to the position of the bed clothes, her position in the bed, overlaying or a combination of all three.

Mr Roberts said: “The deceased was at her home address when, at some time after 2:30am, she was taken from her cot to a double bed where she was anally penetrated.

“She subsequently went to sleep in the double bed with an adult sleeping close to her.

“She was suffering from an upper respiratory tract infection and her ability to breathe was compromised by her unsafe sleeping environment.” Mr Roberts said she was discovered to have stopped breathing shortly before 5:56am and had gone into cardiac arrest before she was pronounced dead more than a hour later at Furness General Hospital.

Mr Worthington only answered a handful of questions when he gave evidence at the inquest, exercising his right against potential self-incrimination.

He told previous hearings that he moved Poppi from her cot into the main bedroom after she woke during the night while Poppi’s mother was asleep downstairs.

Mr Worthington had previously told the family court he had gone to bed earlier with his laptop, which was not recovered by police, where his usual routine was to check football scores and Facebook updates. He has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any offence ­following a bungled investigation by Cumbria Police in which vital evidence was not gathered.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said there were no plans to review its charging decisions, although Cumbria Police Chief Constable Jerry Graham said the force would have “early discussions” with the CPS to “determine possible courses of action”.

Fiona McGhie, solicitor for Poppi’s mother, said: “This is now the third time a court has found, on the balance of ­probabilities, that Poppi was anally penetrated prior to death and my client hopes that the CPS will take another look at this case.”