By Isabel Togoh
Lawyers for the father of Poppi Worthington, who was sexually abused shortly before she died, have claimed a coroner “overstepped the mark” at the inquest when he recorded the reasons for her death.
Former supermarket worker Paul Worthington, 50, took his case to the High Court, sitting in Manchester, where he was represented by high-profile barrister Leslie Thomas QC.
A coroner ruled in January that the 13-month-old was sexually assaulted in her father’s double bed at the family home in Barrow-in-Furness in the early hours of December 12 2012.
The ruling mirrored the findings of two earlier High Court judgments.
During the inquest, Worthington refused to answer questions about his daughter’s death 252 times, so as not to incriminate himself.
Worthington, believed to have been granted legal aid, denies wrongdoing and has never been charged with any offence.
Cumbria Police botched their investigation into Poppi’s death, losing vital evidence about her last hours.
However, at the conclusion of the inquest, senior coroner for Cumbria David Roberts ruled the child had been anally penetrated, but that this did not cause her death.
He concluded that Poppi suffocated as she slept next to her father in an “unsafe sleeping environment”.
Worthington’s lawyers applied for a judicial review of the coroner’s record of inquest, the final two pages of his 87-page ruling, where the coroner must complete boxes in writing, detailing who and how the death occurred.
Thomas said it was a “narrow” point but not “academic” and Worthington was “entitled” to have the matter corrected.
He argued that the coroner was wrong to include the words “anally penetrated” in his record of inquest, which forms part of the official record, because, according to the law, this should only detail how the child died.
As the coroner had ruled that sexual abuse did not cause her death, those words should be taken out of the record of inquest.
Thomas said: “We say this is an allegation of criminal conduct stuck in box three. Which should not be there. It doesn’t touch on how this little girl died.
“What is on the record and will be kept on the record, and people tend to go to, is the inquisition, is the very end document where the findings are, and that’s incorrect.”
He added: “It is perfectly clear this was an asphyxia death. He has overstepped the mark. In this case, what’s included in box three are matters that did not cause death. Anal penetration is irrelevant to how she died. What’s it doing in box three?”
Samantha Leek QC, representing the coroner, said the anal penetration was part of the “wider factual matrix” giving rise to the toddler’s death and Thomas was trying to restrict the record of inquest to the immediate medical cause of death.
She added: “She came by her death because she is brought into bed, because she’s brought into bed to be harmed.
“Where there’s been a high-profile inquest, the central question of which is whether or not this little girl was anally penetrated and whether it caused her death, surely it is within the coroner’s discretion to include that?
“It would be completely artificial to leave that out, it was the central issue in the inquest.”
Justice Hickenbottom told the lawyers he would reserve judgment until a later date.
Worthington is believed to be in hiding following publicity around his daughter’s death.
A spokesman for the Legal Aid Agency said: “We cannot comment on individual cases.”