Council accepts judge’s criticism over care proceedings regarding siblings

A local authority has accepted a family judge’s criticism that it should have issued care proceedings involving the siblings of Poppi Worthington at an earlier stage.

A 2014 fact-finding judgment by Mr Justice Peter Jackson revealed that Cumbria County Council did not issue care proceedings over other children in the family until October 2013 – more than 10 months after the death of the Barrow-in-Furness toddler.

The judge said the children were returned home following Poppi’s death “without any effective child protection measures being taken”.

Cumbria County Council had also decided to wait on the outcome of the police investigation before taking any action in respect of the other children, he said.

In a statement issued today, John Macilwraith, corporate director for children’s services at Cumbria County Council, said: “At the time Poppi Worthington died Cumbria children’s services were not involved with her or her family. Following her death we worked with her family and other agencies to ensure her siblings were not at risk of harm, ultimately making an application to the court to bring them into our care.

“The judge found that this application should have been made sooner given the circumstances of the case. We fully accept this criticism and the judge’s view that this had a bearing on the wider investigation into Poppi’s death.

“Children’s services is currently working to a plan to improve its performance in all areas and there have been significant changes to policy, practice and personnel since the period referred to by the judge.

“Our priority has been, and remains, to ensure that Poppi’s siblings are safe and properly cared for. While we cannot discuss the details of the siblings’ care, we continue to work towards that end.”

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) also issued a statement today which clarified there was “insufficient evidence” to bring criminal charges against anyone.

A CPS spokesman said: “Following the receipt of a file from Cumbria Constabulary in relation to the tragic death of a 13-month-old girl in December 2012, we conducted a thorough review of the evidence in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

“This review included consideration of a large amount of expert evidence which was carefully considered at length by the reviewing lawyer who coordinated with an experienced barrister specialised in this field of criminal law.

“We decided there was insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and therefore did not authorise that any persons be charged with any offences relating to her death. As with any case, should any new evidence come to light during the inquest, we will consider this carefully with the police.”

Cumbria Constabulary said it had “learned lessons” from the case, and added it aimed to ensure the judge’s criticisms were addressed.

A spokesman said: “The Constabulary have reviewed Mr Justice Peter Jackson’s findings from the first Finding of Fact hearing into the death of Poppi Worthington.

“The Constabulary are fully aware of Mr Justice Jackson’s criticisms of the initial investigation and have assessed these criticisms. This assessment led to the Constabulary making a self-referral to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in June 2014.

“Three officers were subject to the investigation. One officer was suspended and has since retired, the other two officers have moved into different roles.

“A second investigation into the death of Poppi Worthington, led by a new investigation team, commenced on 15th July 2014. Following a thorough investigation a decision was made by the Crown Prosecution Service that the two people arrested should face no further action in relation to the death.

“Policies and procedures are continuing to be reviewed by the force and lessons have been learned from this case as we aim to that ensure Mr Justice Jackson’s criticisms are addressed.

“The Constabulary are awaiting the outcome of the second Finding of Fact hearing with interest and will support any future inquest or hearing into this death.

“The death of a child is always tragic, and the Constabulary’s thoughts remain with the family and friends of Poppi Worthington.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2015, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Peter Byrne PA/Wire. Liverpool Civil and Family Courts, where a hearing has been held into the death of 13-month-old Poppi Worthington in December 2012.