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MPs urge independent inquiry into Poppi Worthington death

Published 20/01/2016

Paul Worthington leaves Liverpool Civil and Family Courts
Paul Worthington leaves Liverpool Civil and Family Courts

MPs have called for an independent investigation into the death of toddler Poppi Worthington along the lines of the inquiries into Victoria Climbie and Peter Connelly - known as Baby P.

And there were demands in the House of Commons for a second police force to reopen the investigation into the 13-month-old's 2012 death, after Cumbria Police were criticised for their handling of the case.

A High Court judge found on Tuesday that, on the balance of probabilities, Poppi's father, Paul Worthington, sexually assaulted his daughter shortly before her death, but said the 48-year-old will not face criminal action unless new evidence comes to light.

After being summoned to the Commons to answer questions about the case, Home Office Minister Karen Bradley confirmed that, for the police case to be reopened, there would have to be fresh evidence from a second inquest being carried out into the little girl's death or an Independent Police Complaints Commission report into the original Cumbria Police investigation.

Ms Bradley promised that ministers would "learn lessons" from the tragedy, but said they would not have the full facts until the second inquest is completed.

Poppi collapsed with serious injuries at her home in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, in December 2012 and was rushed to hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson found that Cumbria Police carried out no "real" investigation for nine months, as senior detectives thought a pathologist "may have jumped to conclusions" in her belief the youngster had been a victim of abuse.

Following her burial in February 2013, t here is now said to be an "absence of evidence'' to find out how Poppi died, or definitively prove if or how she was injured.

Mr Worthington was arrested in August 2013 and questioned on suspicion of sexual assault but was not charged with any offence. He strenuously denies any wrongdoing.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has previously said it conducted "a thorough review of the evidence" but decided it was insufficient to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.

A Downing Street source said Prime Minister David Cameron was "shocked" by the judge's ruling.

Barrow and Furness Labour MP John Woodcock told the House of Commons: "The combined failure of several agencies is every bit as serious as those which contributed to the deaths of Victoria Climbie and of Baby Peter in Haringey.

"Will the Government make clear that it values Poppi's life as greatly by ordering now a similarly thorough independent investigation into how the failings happened?

"Will they, as the second inquest is continuing, order a separate force to come in and take over the investigation into Poppi Worthington's death to try to salvage some prospect of justice for her life?"

And f ormer shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper also insisted there was no need to wait for the outcome of the second inquest into her death.

She told Ms Bradley: "Surely we don't need to wait for the inquest for police investigation to be continuing. The IPCC is, I understand it, just verifying whether the police previously did the right job or not.

"What we need is a police investigation now into this individual case and could that be done by an alternative police force?"

Ms Bradley said the IPCC report had been completed but could not be released for fear of prejudicing the second inquest. Labour MPs called for the draft report to be released, claiming that a copy had already been leaked to the media.

And she told MPs: "We do need to learn lessons from this case but we need to wait for that second inquest ... I n order for the case to be reopened, new evidence will need to come to light, which may or may not be the case depending on the IPCC inquiry and also the second inquest.

"But this is an operational matter which I as the minister will not be able to intervene on."

Ms Bradley said there had been an inspection by Ofsted in 2015 into Cumbria social services, in which it was found to be "inadequate". As a result, the Department for Education was currently in the process of intervening to ensure child social services are working properly in the county.

Liberal Democrat former justice minister Sir Simon Hughes told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "If the justice system is about not just justice for the deceased but to make sure that the welfare of the children who are still alive is best looked after, then it must be in the interests of justice that there is a review now as to whether there was any criminal liability for anything that led to the death of this poor little child."

Asked if the Prime Minister would back a second force reopening the investigation, his official spokeswoman said: "This is an issue where we will continue to engage with the local authorities and the police to look at if there is anything more that should be done or any lessons to be learned."

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