Curious news reports regarding the cause of death of a baby girl in Cumbria, began circulating some weeks ago. The BBC reported that the coroner saying that “there had been a two-week Family Court hearing into the death, which found the cause of death could not be ascertained” and that “it would be inappropriate for another court to come to a different conclusion and recorded an open verdict.” (See : Poppi Iris Worthington death: Cause uncertain but inquiry continues, 21 Oct 14).
Some news reports e.g. the Guardian, suggest that the Coroner has yet to record a verdict, but has simply adjourned the inquest whilst other proceedings / investigations are ongoing. There is no published written record of the Coroner’s remarks other than as reported in the press, so it is currently impossible to tell which version is correct.
There had been a fact finding hearing held in the family court in March 2014, when Mr Justice Peter Jackson heard evidence about Poppi’s cause of death, during care proceedings, in order to make decisions about any risk to her surviving siblings. That judgment has not been made public, and reporting restrictions were in place preventing publication of some but not all information about the case.
In July 2014 Mr Justice Peter Jackson made a reporting restriction order regarding the case. Before doing so he heard submissions from the media and all parties concerned, which will have included the Guardian for the surviving children, the parents and the Local Authority. They don’t prevent the naming of the Father or Poppi, but the other children and Poppi’s mother must not be named. The order was one which the media accepted was appropriate, even though some of those involved in the care proceedings had wanted more restrictive orders in place. That order remains in place.
The judge did permit the media to disclose his judgment to their lawyers but not to report it. Having had the opportunity to take legal advice the press have not come back to court to ask for a relaxation of the reporting restriction order.
Subsequently, Mr Justice Peter Jackson has issued an explanatory statement about the extent of the reporting restrictions, the reasons for them and their duration. The statement was published on the Judiciary website here (27 October 2014).
In short, the reason for the ongoing secrecy is that police investigations into the cause of Poppi’s death continue, having it seems resumed following the fact finding hearing. In order to protect both the siblings who are the subject of proceedings, and in order to avoid prejudicing any possible criminal prosecution, reporting restrictions remain in place for the time being. From Mr Justice Peter Jackson’s statement it seems highly likely that in due course some or all of the restrictions are likely to be lifted, including by the publication of the fact finding judgment, although the identity and circumstances of the surviving siblings is likely to be subject to continued privacy protection.
It seems reasonable to infer from Mr Justice Jackson’s statement that something of significance emerged during the course of the fact finding hearing, but it is currently not possible to say what that might be. Whatever it is, it appears that it has caused the Police to look again at the case. It is also reasonable to infer from the fact of disclosure of the judgment to a long list of public bodies with child protection responsibilities, that there may have emerged evidence of failures in child protection, or that there are lessons to be learnt for the future.
“We can confirm that the constabulary has made a referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and they are conducting an investigation…Currently a number of officers are subject of the investigation and one officer has been suspended.”
The statement from Cumbria Police cannot be located on their website.
The Guardian names the Father and reports that he has been arrested but not charged (as at 21 October).
The full text of the Coroner’s statement on 21 October has not been located online. It appears to be most fully reported in the Kingston Guardian.
This post will be updated when further information or links to source material are available.