Cumbria

Poppi Worthington inquest: Expert casts doubt on abuse theory

Poppi Worthington Image copyright Family photo
Image caption Some important items were lost or never recovered, including Poppi's last nappy and her pyjama bottoms, the inquest heard

An expert witness has cast doubt on suggestions toddler Poppi Worthington was sexually abused in the hours before her death.

Dr Nat Cary, a consultant forensic pathologist, told the inquest there was no clear-cut evidence of trauma implying third-party involvement.

His evidence contradicted the findings of Dr Alison Armour, who was called as a witness earlier in the week.

Poppi died suddenly at a house in Barrow on 12 December 2012.

No-one has been prosecuted.

Although he did not carry out his own post-mortem examination, Dr Cary said he had formed his opinion after studying photographs and slides.

'Natural' marks

He told the hearing in Kendal he discounted Dr Armour's assertion that marks found near Poppi's fallopian tube were bruises from sexual penetration.

Dr Cary said they were "of no consequence" and would have occurred naturally in the five days between the youngster's death and her examination by Dr Armour.

Although he said he could not "absolutely exclude" penetration, Dr Cary said he would have "expected very obvious injury and there wasn't anything of the sort".

He said he could not be sure how the 13-month-old had died.

There could have been an "element of asphyxia" but there was no sign she had struggled against restraint, he said.

"Just because you don't find a natural cause it doesn't mean there isn't one," he said.

He told Leslie Thomas QC, representing Poppi's father Paul Worthington, there was no evidence of a criminal act directly or indirectly causing Poppi's death.

The presence of blood "needs to be explained" but there was only the "possibility that something happened", he said.

Image copyright Terry Bradford/AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Dr Nat Cary (seen here at a crime scene in Ipswich in 2006) said Poppi's death was not necessarily criminal just because it was unexplained

In answer to further questions, he said it was not possible to say whether an injury to Poppi's leg was deliberate or accidental and, if the latter, whether it was not witnessed by a parent or seen but ignored.

The coroner David Roberts asked Dr Cary if Poppi's case affected the way he now carried out his work in other cases.

Would he, for example, look for marks like those seen in Poppi, he asked.

Dr Cary said: "Yes, I would have a better look than I used to."

Image copyright Cumbria County Council
Image caption The sheet from the double bed where Poppi was placed at the time of her collapse was not recovered, the inquest heard

The inquest was told earlier that vital evidence from Poppi's final hours was lost or never found by police.

Catherine Thundercloud, a retired Cumbria Police officer, said it would have been "imperative" to get statements from people in the house and Poppi's aunt, Tracy Worthington, as quickly as possible.

She had been asked to review the evidence as part of an Independent Police Commission Complaint (IPCC) investigation.

Sheets, equipment and gloves used by paramedics and hospital staff should have been retained, she said.

But a number of these items had not been kept, the inquest has heard.

Alison Hewitt, counsel for the coroner, asked Ms Thundercloud what officers should have known before they searched the house.

Ms Thundercloud said they should have had first accounts from the parents and details from hospital staff about what had happened.

The inquest has heard the first police search began before first accounts had been gathered from Mr Worthington.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Paul Worthington has always denied harming his daughter

Ms Thundercloud said: "Unless you've read what he said you can't do a proper strategy."

She said those failures may have resulted in "vital evidence being lost".

The account from Mr Worthington would have shown the pyjama bottoms, which have never been found, were needed, she said.

Mr Worthington's laptop and both parents' mobile phones should also have been seized, she said.

Ms Thundercloud said there had been "a lot of failings by police" and "missed opportunities" in the first two days of the investigation.

A proper log of the investigation was not kept so it was "very difficult" to see "the rationale of what was done and not done," she said.

In 2016, High Court family judge Mr Justice Peter Jackson ruled Poppi was probably sexually assaulted by her father shortly before she died.

Mr Worthington has denied any wrongdoing.

The hearing continues.

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