A father who was publicly identified by a high court judge for sexually assaulting his baby daughter shortly before she died has fled abroad after receiving death threats, his family has said.
Paul Worthington, 48, has denied harming 13-month-old Poppi – who died in December 2012 – but a ruling published this week concluded on the balance of probabilities he had sexually assaulted her before her death.
Worthington’s sister Tracy said on Thursday her brother had left his home following threats to his life. She said he was trying to get advice from miscarriage of justice experts as he tried to prove his innocence.
She told the Guardian: “He has had to leave the country because of all of this. People keeping knocking on my door asking where he is, thinking he is going to be wandering around my estate, but he is not here. He left the country on Tuesday. He is hundreds of miles away.
“He has been in limbo for the past three years and there is absolutely nothing he can do because the agencies did not just fail Poppi, they failed him.
“Any evidence that could have proved that he was innocent was destroyed and now he is being accused of being a child rapist and paedophile, yet he has not been convicted of anything … everything has been lost and there is no evidence at all that can prove my brother’s innocence.”
As pressure grew on the authorities following the publication of Mr Justice Jackson’s ruling this week, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said one of three Cumbria police officers it investigated could be sacked if found guilty of gross incompetence. A second officer has been given management advice but a third retired and escaped disciplinary proceedings.
The Crown Prosecution Service – which had previously refused to review its files on the case – announced on Thursday night it would now re-examine the evidence. A new inquest into the death is likely to take months to establish.
David Roberts, the senior coroner for Cumbria, said he would decide on 9 February whether to hold a new inquest. If he decides in favour, he will set a date for the hearing, which he hoped would take place in 2016. Several reports into the death – including the IPCC inquiry – are being kept secret until the conclusion of any second inquest.
Worthington was never charged after failures in the first police investigation meant crucial forensic evidence was not secured. It included the baby’s nappy and her bedding. A second police inquiry in 2014 sent a file of evidence to the CPS, which found there was insufficient evidence to charge Worthington.
Poppi Worthington died in December 2012, eight hours after her mother had put her to bed as a healthy child. In his ruling this week, Jackson concluded: “A healthy child with no medical condition or illness was put to bed by her mother one evening and brought downstairs eight hours later by her father in a lifeless state and with troubling injuries. Careful assessment of the meticulous pathological and paediatric evidence has clearly established that the injuries were the result of trauma from outside the body.”
Tracy Worthington said her brother has had depression for the past three years and had left his home because he was “sick of being hounded”.
“His downfall has been that he often doesn’t speak about things and people mistake this for being surly,” she said. “He is innocent, he doted on those children. If I thought he had done this, I would not protect him, but I truly believe he is innocent.”
She said her brother had pushed for a second investigation into the death, adding: “Why would he do this if he was guilty? Surely he would have just stayed quiet and hoped it would all blow over. There has been a failure on the part of the agencies and my brother is as much a victim as Poppi of those failures.”
Richard Rhodes, police and crime commissioner for Cumbria, has called in Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to investigate the force following the judge’s ruling.
Rhodes said he wanted to make sure that errors in the first police investigation would not happen again. “I have spoken to the HMIC and asked them if they would be willing to be commissioned by me to investigate not only what happened but also whether the improvements the chief constable is telling me have been made have actually taken place. That is what members of the public want to know – that this will never happen again,” he said.
The detectives involved in the first investigation dismissed a report by Home Office pathologist Dr Alison Armour, who concluded that Poppi was the victim of a sexual assault by a man, believing instead that the pathologist may have jumped to conclusions.
As a result, there was no proper investigation for nine months, forensic evidence was not secured, the house was not secured, no senior officer visited the home and Worthington’s computer was not analysed. He has admitted watching pornography shortly before Poppi’s death.
Three medical experts disputed Armour’s conclusions, but Jackson rejected their advice and found that – on the civil court standard of the balance of probabilities – Worthington did carry out a sexual assault on the baby before she died.
Worthington’s lawyers told Jackson that their client was a “doting and loving father” and there was “no sufficient evidential basis” to suggest he abused his daughter.