Second inquest into death of Poppi Worthington opens

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A second inquest into the sudden death of 13-month-old Poppi Worthington has opened after the controversial first hearing was shrouded in secrecy and lasted just seven minutes.

Poppi Worthington was listed as "a child aged 13 months" at the first inquest in 2014, as a coroner decided he was satisfied to rely on the findings of a private family court judgment and declared her death unexplained.

But a judge in the family courts later ruled the child had probably been sexually assaulted by her father, Paul Worthington, before her death.

Mr Worthington, 49, who is to give evidence to the inquest later this week, has never been charged with a criminal offence and denies responsibility.

Media outside County Hall in Kendal
Media outside County Hall in Kendal (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Today, 25 members of the press and a similar number of lawyers representing Poppi's family, the police, local council and others attended as David Roberts, senior coroner for Cumbria, opened the hearing at County Hall in Kendal.

It follows the High Court ordering a fresh inquest into the Barrow-in-Furness youngster's death after the first hearing was deemed "irregular".

Mr Roberts, making introductory remarks, said almost all of the evidence for the new inquest, scheduled to last up to four weeks, will deal with the question of how Poppi died.

He added: "Poppi was a toddler who was generally well and her death was sudden and unexpected."

Poppi collapsed at her home with serious injuries on December 12, 2012 and was taken to Furness General Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Her father has been in hiding since January 2016, when family court judge Mr Justice Peter Jackson, now Lord Justice Peter Jackson, ruled in public that he probably sexually assaulted his daughter before her collapse.

He said Poppi's "significant bleeding" within 15 minutes of the 999 call made from the family home could only be sensibly explained as the result of penetrative trauma.

Senior coroner for Cumbria David Roberts arriving at County Hall in Kendal
Senior coroner for Cumbria David Roberts arriving at County Hall in Kendal (Owen Humphreys/PA)

The judge also found Cumbria Police had conducted no "real" investigation for nine months following the death, as he said senior detectives thought a pathologist who examined Poppi's body "may have jumped to conclusions" that the youngster had been abused.

His fact-finding judgment as part of care proceedings involving Poppi's siblings had previously not been made public in case it prejudiced any future criminal trial.

Police later announced no charges would be brought against anyone over Poppi's death, but the publication of the judgment was further delayed as Mr Worthington challenged the medical evidence of the findings.

Lawyers for Mr Worthington, who strenuously denies any wrongdoing, had argued he should be excused attendance at the fresh inquest because he had received death threats and his human rights would be better protected by appearing in court via videolink.

Last year, the Crown Prosecution Service confirmed there was "insufficient evidence" to charge Mr Worthington with any offence over his daughter's death.

In March, an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report concluded that senior detectives investigating Poppi's death were "unstructured and disorganised", and highlighted the delay into a criminal investigation taking place "despite there being significant suspicious circumstances from the outset".

Fiona McGhie, a lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing the child's mother - who cannot be named for legal reasons, said: "Poppi's mother hopes that the inquest, which has been much delayed over the last two years, can shed some light on Poppi's final hours."

HM senior coroner for Cumbria, David Roberts, is expected to adjourn the proceedings over Christmas and new year before he gives his formal conclusions on January 15.