I think I’ve written nearly as many blog posts about Poppi Worthington’s case as I have about Re D, yesterday’s case.
The most recent Poppi Worthington piece is here
For those who don’t know, Poppi died in December 2012. The Judge in care proceedings made findings about the causation of her injuries, and what also raised media attention was the Guardian’s list of lessons that ought to be learned or failings by professionals. Those were all finally aired in the judgment above. The Coroner considered the case in October 2014 and left the causes of the child’s death blank. The police decided not to charge anyone. Father as a result of some of the medical evidence obtained in the police investigation asked the family Court to reopen their findings and look at it again. And all the way through this, the Press have been asking to be able to publish the judgments, and have had to wait until this.
I have to say that the November judgment contained a peculiar line, that the police took a forensic swab from father’s penis, which led to some obvious worries about what it might have been suspected had happened to poor Poppi, but I didn’t want to speculate about it given that the family were going through a re-run of the family Court fact finding hearing.
The father had obviously hoped and believed that the re-run of the finding of fact hearing would clear his name.
I’m afraid that for me, the detail of the case is too grim for me to want to rake over here. For those who want to read it, it is here.
F v Cumbria County Council and M (fact-finding no 2) 2016
The conclusion of the fact finding was this:-
- For the court to conduct a further hearing in a case of this kind is highly unusual. It does not do so simply because others hold different views to those of a witness whose evidence has been accepted. This further hearing took place because it was asserted that there was evidence capable of establishing an alternative plausible hypothesis for the bleeding, namely that it may have come from congested blood vessels that had been affected by a viral infection. But even before the hearing began, that assertion had vanished like frost in May.
- In conclusion, stepping back and reviewing the evidence as a whole, I arrive at the same view as I expressed at paragraph 142 of the previous judgment: Shorn to its essentials, the situation is one in which 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, most obviously significant bleeding from the anus. Careful assessment of the meticulous pathological and paediatric evidence has clearly established that the injuries were the result of trauma from outside the body.
- My finding at paragraph 152 was that the father perpetrated a penetrative anal assault on Poppi, either using his penis or some other unidentified object. That remains my conclusion. Some witnesses at this hearing have expressed the view that penetration with a penis would have been expected to cause more obvious injuries. That may be so, but the evidence does not exclude any one of a number of distressing possibilities. As I said before, it is not possible to reconstruct the exact sequence of events that led to Poppi’s collapse without a truthful account from the father.
Reporting restrictions still apply on naming Poppi’s siblings. The Press access to this particular hearing was unprecedented, giving them access to documents and reports and even allowing for daily reporting and tweeting about the ongoing case provided it was done after the end of the Court day. The Judge thanked the Press for their responsible behaviour.
- The ability of the media to report a hearing of this kind on a day-to-day basis is unusual and the arrangements here are probably unprecedented. At the outset, ground rules were discussed and established, as follows:
1. The reporting restriction order made on 11 July 2014 and varied on 14 January 2015 remains in effect. Copies have been provided.
2. The hearing is taking place in private. Accredited media representatives may attend and are asked to sign in on a daily basis.
3. Any media representative who attends will be provided with the full 2014 judgment, the medical reports, the minutes of the experts’ meetings, the schedules of agreement and disagreement and the summary of medical evidence. These documents are for information, to assist with understanding the course of the hearing, and they are not for publication. They can be removed from court but they are to be kept safe and are not to be copied or given to others.
4. The media may report daily on the proceedings on these conditions:
(1) Such reporting is subject to any further directions given by the court concerning what can and cannot be published if an issue arises during the course of the hearing.
(2) Reporting (whether by live reporting, Twitter or otherwise) may not take place until after the court proceedings have concluded on any given day, so that the court has had an opportunity to consider whether any additional directions are required.
(3) Until the publication of the final judgment, nothing is to be reported that might directly or indirectly indicate the findings that the court made in March 2014.
5. The final judgment, when available, will be published. At that point the full 2014 judgment will also be published.
6. Any queries about the ground rules should be addressed to court staff who will consult with the parties and with the court as necessary.
- A copy of these rules was placed in the civil jury box where, as it happens, the media sat during the hearing. On the first two days, eight media representatives attended, with the number reducing on subsequent days. On a few occasions, issues about what could or could not be published were raised by a party or a journalist, and these were easily resolved. The opening of the hearing was extensively reported, with less coverage thereafter.
- I repeat what I said at the outset of the hearing:“I would like to emphasise that the unusual package of arrangements for this hearing arises from the application of existing law to the exceptionally unusual circumstances of this case. These arrangements do not establish new law or practice in the Family Court and they are not intended to set a precedent for other family cases.”
- I nonetheless record that the conduct of the journalists in court was entirely professional and their presence did not adversely affect the hearing; on the contrary, their attendance may be said to have reflected the seriousness of the occasion. The media’s ability to observe the court going about its work in this particular case, and to report and comment on the outcome and the process, has in my view been a valid exercise.
Where does that leave things (assuming there’s no appeal)? Well, almost all of the national press are reporting that the Judge found that Poppi died having been molested in a vile way, and that the person who molested her was her father.
The police have made a decision not to prosecute (that could potentially be reviewed by the CPS – though given the press reporting, there might be issues of fair trial now, and of course there are the flaws identified in the last judgment about the process. ).
This particular father, because the child’s full and real name is in the public domain and the Press took such an interest in the case, is probably now known to everyone in his local community and all of them will have a view about the case, yet he has not been convicted in a criminal court or even charged. His name is actually within the judgment and naming him is not prohibited.
It is hard, of course, to have any sympathy for someone found to have done what this father was found to have done. It is a very tough test of transparency though – it does feel right that the Press were able to dig into this case and report it accurately and properly, but we do end up with a father who the police did not think it was right to charge being named and shamed in the Press as having done something that every person reading it would think was truly monstrous.
The Reporting Restriction Order is plain, and will apply to this blog and commentators. Don’t put anything in your comments that would breach it.
A REPORTING RESTRICTION ORDER IS IN FORCE. IT PROHIBITS THE IDENTIFICATION OF THE SURVIVING CHILDREN OR THE MOTHER, OR THEIR HOMES, SCHOOLS OR NURSERIES. IT DOES NOT PREVENT THE NAMING OF POPPI, OR HER FATHER, OR THE REPORTING OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF HER DEATH. THE JUDGE HAS GIVEN PERMISSION FOR THE JUDGMENT (AND ANY OF THE FACTS AND MATTERS CONTAINED IN IT) TO BE PUBLISHED ON CONDITION THAT ALL PERSONS, INCLUDING REPRESENTATIVES OF THE MEDIA, MUST ENSURE THAT THE REPORTING RESTRICTION ORDER IS STRICTLY COMPLIED WITH. FAILURE TO DO SO MAY BE A CONTEMPT OF COURT.