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Child Sex Abuse: Lower Burden of Proof Proposed

The children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has recently proposed lowering the burden of proof required in cases of child sexual abuse, adding that the system that is currently in place is ‘not fit for purpose’.

Poppi Worthington

The commissioner’s suggestion comes after a ruling made by a family court judge with regards to the case of 13 month old Poppi Worthington. Based on the ‘civil standard of balance of probabilities’, the judge ruled that Poppy was sexually assaulted by her father before her death.

Poppi Iris Worthington died in December 2012 and her father, Paul Worthington, 46, and a 30-year-old woman were later arrested. However, the initial investigation – in which there were a number of police failures – ruled that the cause of death could not be determined and their bail was cancelled. A second police inquiry was then carried out in 2015.

Following this, it was decided by the by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that Mr Worthington would not face criminal charges due to the lack of evidence needed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Child sex abuse: Difficulty obtaining & providing evidence

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Longfield explained:

“What this case really sharply illustrates is the difficulty there is in giving evidence in the case of child sex abuse, especially within the family.

“We know that the vast majority of cases aren’t reported in the first place, but even those that are reported, the vast majority don’t go to court because the evidence just isn’t there. And when looking at the burden of beyond reasonable doubt, it’s very sharply in contrast to the kind of ruling we saw from the judge last week, which is about balance of probability.”

When questioned if the case of Poppi Worthington concerned a failure to collect evidence by police, Longfield said that officers ‘should and could have done better’. However, she also added that cases of child sex abuse within the family are often not reported until years after the incident has taken place. According to the children’s commissioner, this time gap can means forensic evidence is unavailable and can lead to the accounts of alleged victims being unclear. Longfield added:

“We need to understand that if we are serious about tackling child sexual abuse, we need to better decide what does constitute good evidence and that’s something not for me, for the police; it’s for social services, it’s for the judiciary.”

“It doesn’t mean a wholesale move over to a ruling by a judge and wholesale embracement of [balance of] probability but it does mean we need to look at improving a system that isn’t fit for purpose for those that are experiencing sexual abuse.”

Police Errors

In the new judgment, which was made public last week, Mr Justice Peter Jackson found that Paul Worthington had abused Poppi Worthington in the hours before her death. He also found that the initial investigation into her death was mired by the errors of the police involved.

Following the publication of the ruling by Mr Justice Peter Jackson, the CPS announced that it would re-examine the evidence in Poppy’s case, after having previously refused to do so.

Sexual Abuse Claims – Expert Advice

Hampson Hughes Solicitors specialises in directing sexual abuse claims in a considerate and compassionate manner. Our Abuse & Criminal Injuries Department is headed by Greg Neill – Greg is a member of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers (ACAL).

For an open and friendly conversation about your situation, and to find out how we can assist you relevant to your individual experience, call 0800 888 6 888 or email info@hh-law.co.uk

You will be given the direct-dial of your case handler, meaning that you will always be able to reach the person you need.

Source: BBC News; The Guardian

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