Press challenge prompts Coroner to seek fresh inquest

The Senior Coroner for Cumbria will be seeking a fresh inquest into the death of a 13-month-old girl following a challenge from three media organisations: Times Newspapers Ltd., Guardian News and Media Ltd. and Associated Newspapers Ltd.  Caoilfhionn Gallagher acts for the media in this case, instructed by solicitors Reynolds Porter Chamberlain LLP.

 

The media organisations raised concerns about the conduct of an inquest into the death of 13-month-old Poppi Worthington, which took place on 21st October 2014 before the Coroner for the South and East Districts of Cumbria.  The inquest lasted for 7 minutes and provided no information regarding the circumstances leading up to Poppi’s death.  The Coroner described the death as “unexplained” and said he was not going to go “over the same ground” as the family court in an unpublished judgment, although he said was relying on the findings in that judgment.  Those findings were not summarised or described during the inquest and are unknown to the media or the public.

 

The media organisations informed the Senior Coroner that they were intending to bring judicial review proceedings concerning the conduct of and shortcomings in the Coroner’s investigation into the death of Poppi Worthington.  The media organisations claimed that there were serious flaws in the Coroner’s approach at the October 2014 hearing and in the lead-up to the inquest: a breach of the requirements of open justice and the Coroner’s Rules, and a failure by the Coroner to discharge the basic, core coronial function to investigate and publicly record how and in what circumstances Poppi Worthington died.  The media organisations also indicated that there are substantial questions of public interest arising, concerning how this young baby died and how various public bodies dealt with her, both in her short life and her premature death.

 

In answer to the media’s pre-action correspondence, the Senior Coroner agreed that a fresh inquest should take place.  He will now seek a fiat from the Attorney General to pursue an application under s. 13, Coroners and Justice Act 2009 for a High Court Order that a fresh inquest is to be held.

 

This week Mr Justice Peter Jackson also varied a reporting restriction order which is place concerning Poppi Worthington, following submissions made on behalf of 8 media organisations: Guardian News and Media Ltd., Associated Newspapers Ltd., the BBC, CN Group, Independent Print Ltd., the Press Association, Telegraph Media Group and Times Newspapers Ltd.  This larger group of media organisations is also represented by Caoilfhionn Gallagher and RPC.

 

These developments have been widely reported: see for example

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