Poppi Worthington hit the headlines in 2012, when she died of horrific injuries at only 13 months. At the time, police and other officials refused to go into detail about the death, but a report that has now been published confirms the worst.
In a report released on 19th January, 2016, Mr Justice Jackson confirms that astonishing failings by both the police and social services will now mean that justice will be denied to little Poppi.
The judge goes on to conclude that, on the balance of probabilities, her father Paul Worthington had “perpetrated a penetrative… assault on Poppi” shortly before she died.
We are also told that no officer was ever sacked over the errors in Poppi’s case, and the policeman in charge of the investigation took retirement at the age of 48 on a pension of up to £46,000 a year.
Now, a new inquest into Poppi’s death will be held, amid clamours from the public and Members of Parliament calling for an Inquiry into the failings, which come at a time when the government has gone to great lengths to commission reports and research on best practice within child protection. No amount of materials it seems, is making its way onto the ground to inform and guide child protection professionals.
The failings are shocking – from ignoring expert reports, to allowing Poppi’s siblings to return home to live with their father, the catalogue of errors is astounding. We add the 12 basic police omissions below, but they are by no means the end of the story:
- Items at the hospital Poppi was taken to were not preserved for forensic analysis
- Items at the family home were not preserved for forensic analysis
- The scene at the family home was not secured, with Poppi’s last nappy being lost despite the presence of police officers
- DI S and DCI F not visiting the home. According to national protocol, a senior officer should immediately attend the home to take charge of the investigation and ensure that evidence is intelligently preserved
- No reconstruction with the parents at home so that their accounts could be understood and investigations focused
- No forensic medical examination at the time of death. Swabs were not taken until post-mortem despite delays meaning forensic analysis can be prejudiced
- No engagement of a paediatrician with specialist knowledge of investigating sexual abuse for there to be a physical examination of the child, a viewing of the home and a report for the pathologist
- Dr Armour’s initial views were not clearly passed on to the local authority for safeguarding purposes
- The parents were not formally interviewed until August 2013
- Neither parent’s mobile telephone or Facebook accounts were analysed
- Samples were not sent for analysis until after receipt of Dr Armour’s full report
- No statements taken from any witnesses (paramedics, nurses, doctors, family members) until September 2013
Despite the judge ruling that Poppi’s father was almost certainly responsible for her fatal injuries, he is unlikely to ever be charged due to the above blunders. Justice Jackson also points out that the failings were also in part due to a lack of resources at a time when the police force were devoting much of their time to allegations of what is often called historic child sexual abuse. Sadly, if those allegations had been dealt with properly at the time, the police would likely have had more resources today to deal with tragedies like this one.
In a debate yesterday in the House of Commons, MPs called for an Inquiry into the handling of Poppi’s case. Tim Loughton MP began his statement with the thought that this case sounded like “a depressingly familiar catalogue of failure and cover up.” Other Members of Parliament reiterated the importance of social services and police working together quickly to secure evidence, as well as the Family Court’s modus operandi generally, and some called for an investigation of the police force responsible for handling the case.
It is a deeply troubling case. For the loss of life, the continued failures inside a system which has been privy to report after report on its own miserable inadequacies and a government which continues to undermine the importance of child protection work.
How many more children must die?