A former justice minister has called for the reopening of a criminal investigation into the death of a toddler found to have been sexually assaulted by her father shortly before her death.
Sir Simon Hughes told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that "justice demands" the Crown Prosecution Service re-investigate Paul Worthington after a High Court family judge ruled he had sexually assaulted his daughter, Poppi, before her death in 2012.
The 13-month-old collapsed at the family home in Cumbria with serious injuries and was pronounced dead at hospital.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
Worthington was questioned by police but never charged with any offence. Medical experts gave conflicting accounts of how Poppi's injuries might have been caused and the cause of death was never officially determined.
The CPS has maintained there was insufficient evidence to make the prospect of conviction likely, so the case was never heard in a criminal court. However, a family court can conduct a "fact-finding" hearing if local authorities argue that children have been placed at risk, as Cumbria County Council did on behalf of Worthington's surviving children in this case.
Yesterday, High Court family judge Mr Justice Peter Jackson ruled that "on the balance of probabilities", 48-year-old Worthington subjected his daughter to a "penetrative… assault" around the time of her death. Unlike in criminal courts, allegations in fact-finding hearings do not have to be proven "beyond reasonable doubt". Instead, judges decide whether it was more likely or not that the incidents occurred and have no power to give a verdict or sentence.
The civil court hearings surrounding the circumstances of Poppi's sudden death have been conducted in strict secrecy. Justice Jackson initially ruled that Worthington assaulted Poppi in March 2014, but the media was banned from reporting on this ruling until yesterday's judgement.
A review of the case was "the right thing that should happen", argued Sir Simon this morning. However, the CPS will only reopen a criminal case in the event of compelling new evidence which improves the chances of a conviction.
Lawyers representing Worthington told the court he was a "doting and loving" father and issued a statement on his behalf in which he rejected yesterday's conclusions and denied any wrongdoing.
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.