Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Father of Poppi Worthington smuggled into inquest through back door

Paul Worthington Photo: PA

A Cumbrian man who a judge ruled had probably sexually assaulted his 13-month-old daughter before her death has been smuggled into court with a police escort ahead of him giving evidence at her inquest.

Paul Worthington scurried in through the back door of County Hall in Kendal, shielded by police officers and pursued by press photographers and reporters.

The 49-year-old is due to appear as the main witness in the second inquest into the death of Poppi, who collapsed suddenly at her Barrow-in-Furness home on December 12 2012.

Staff at the court also taped paper over the windows of the building to stop anyone seeing in.

Mr Worthington has been in hiding since January 2016 when family court judge Mr Justice Peter Jackson, now Lord Justice Peter Jackson, made public his conclusion that he probably sexually assaulted his toddler daughter before her collapse.

He said Poppi's "significant bleeding" within 15 minutes of the 999 call made from the family home could only be sensibly explained as the result of penetrative trauma.

A police investigation launched after Poppi's death was botched by Cumbria Police, with vital evidence discarded and witnesses not interviewed until months later.

Mr Worthington strenuously denies any wrongdoing and has never been charged with any offence.

The second inquest was ordered after the controversial first hearing, held by a different coroner, was shrouded in secrecy and lasted just seven minutes.

Before any evidence was heard and Mr Worthington was called, his lawyers applied for permission from the coroner for him to give evidence from behind a screen, so he cannot be seen either by the public, though no-one was present in the gallery, or members of the media, of whom 22 were seated on the press benches.

Currently two seats behind a desk from where witnesses give evidence is shielded from most of the courtroom by a 7ft (2m) screen partition and the desk is visible only from part of the court.

Paul Clark, representing Mr Worthington, said: "He has been in a long-term position of great vulnerability and risk and he's been in a long-term position of witness protection, whereby currently his appearance and location is not known.

"There are photos of Mr Worthington online but what is not known to the public is currently his location but also his current appearance.

"In this case it has been apparent throughout that there's a real risk to Mr Worthington's life, and even if not at a risk of death, risk of serious mistreatment and clearly substantial concerns outside these tangible risks and substantial concerns on Mr Worthington's right to private life that has already been jeopardised, very, very substantially indeed."

Mr Clark cited a headline on an article in the Daily Mail referring to Mr Worthington being "Castrated" and a second article in the Sun which carried the words "cheating justice" and a comment from a member of the public below expressing the hope that Mr Worthington would be killed during the inquest proceedings.

He suggested that the public and "the media themselves sometimes" were unable to make the distinction between someone accused of something and someone convicted of something.

Mr Clark said the press's rights were there for them to report in good faith and accurately, but he cited what he claimed were errors in the reporting of the evidence heard in the inquest on Tuesday in Wednesday's newspapers.

He said a precautionary approach was needed and screening for Mr Worthington was "plainly justified".

It is unclear whether Mr Worthington is formally in a witness protection programme or being given protection as a witness for the inquest hearing.

Meanwhile, Cumbria Police have been asked to clarify the position.

But Jude Bunting, representing the media, said the application for screens was robustly rejected by the various organisations he represented and the submission was "desperate stuff" based on mere "vague assertion".

Mr Bunting said the fundamental principle is one of open justice, so what happens in courts is not hidden from the public and that includes the reporting of the identity of witnesses, seeing them and hearing them.

And he said the principle of open justice should only be departed from when strictly necessary.

He said any risk to a witness had to be "real and immediate" and the comment made below the Sun article, expressing the hope that Mr Worthington would be killed, was the "sort of absurd and extreme comment that's made on social media, day in and day out".

"Social media is a Wild West where people indulge in pub talk," he added.

Mr Bunting said the comment was made by a woman, using her own name - and inquired whether, if it was to be taken seriously, had the police investigated?

Gillian Irving QC, representing Poppi's mother, who was in court, supported the media's position and said Mr Worthington should be visible to everyone.

She added: "She's waited almost five years for this hearing, and the notion that she in some way should be deprived of hearing what is probably the last formal occasion where Mr Worthington gives evidence is unsatisfactory in the extreme."

The inquest continues.