Police have been criticised by senior judges for a “catalogue of failures” in an investigation following the unexplained death of a child.
The young girl, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was found dead at her home in London and her death was initially treated by officers as a “tragic accident”.
But, after a post-mortem concluded her death was probably the result of a “sexually-motivated” killing, police treated it as a potential crime.
Lady Justice King said the investigation was “replete with the sort of mistakes” made in the case of 13-month-old Poppi Worthington – who a coroner found was sexually abused by her father before her sudden death in 2012.
The judge said: “The opportunity to gather critical evidence including DNA and fingerprint evidence was lost consequent upon the delay and the deficiency in the police investigation.”
She made her remarks in a Court of Appeal ruling on Wednesday concerning family proceedings.
No criminal charges have yet been brought in relation to the girl’s death.
At an earlier High Court hearing, Mr Justice Francis said the police appeared to have “closed their minds” to the possibility of the girl being killed during the “crucial period” after her body was discovered in 2016.
He also criticised the police for “serious deficiencies” in relation to disclosure of evidence, adding: “I regard the disclosure of relevant material by the police in this case to have been woefully inadequate.”
Poppi Worthington was taken by ambulance from her family home in Barrow-in-Furness to hospital, where she was pronounced dead, in December 2012.
Medics noted the toddler was bleeding from her bottom and in January the senior coroner for Cumbria, David Roberts, concluded she was anally penetrated in her father Paul Worthington’s double bed.
The coroner ruled out those injuries as the cause of death and said she had suffocated as she slept next to her father.
His ruling, made on the balance of probabilities, effectively mirrored two judgments given at the High Court in 2014 and 2016 which found that Mr Worthington, 50, abused his daughter shortly before her death.
But “grotesque failures” by Cumbria Police, who lost evidence during their investigation, means no-one has ever been prosecuted.
Mr Worthington, who denies any wrongdoing, is now living in hiding under police protection.
Following the coroner’s ruling, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said Mr Worthington would not face any legal action.