The High Court has ordered a fresh fact-finding hearing into the death of a toddler.
The child was just 13 months old when she died in December 2012 in disputed circumstances. Mr Justice Peter Jackson made findings of fact in relation to the death which remain unpublished.
Following the hearing, the Cumbrian family’s other children were taken into care.
Sitting at the Civil Justice Centre in Manchester, Family Court Judge Mr Justice Peter Jackson explained that subsequently:
“…a coroner’s inquest was held in circumstances that provoked criticism. Steps now have been taken to secure a fresh inquest. A Serious Case Review is also in progress.”
The unpublished fact-finding hearing raised “issues” about the way in which the girl’s death had been investigated. As a result, the police commissioned a number of medical reports from different experts, including a pathologist. These came to different conclusions than the pathologists who provided evidence at the original hearing.
On the basis of these new reports, the father applied for the conclusions of the fact-finding hearing to be reconsidered, and for the care order relating to his other children to be set aside. Both Cumbria County Council and the children’s mother opposed his application but he did receive support from the children’s legal guardian.
These new reports deserved “further consideration”, concluded Mr Justice Peter Jackson. They presented an alternative explanation for the circumstances surrounding the child’s death, and this scenario needed full investigation.
The Judge noted the unusual nature of his ruling:
“The circumstances in which the court will reopen established findings of fact are rare. There is a public and private interest in litigation being final. The impact of a renewal of the litigation on the family members can be significant, as is undoubtedly the case here. Further proceedings are also expensive, in this case to the public, and consume court time that is needed for other cases.”
A fresh fact-finding hearing will take place in the autumn.
Cumbria County Council v M & F is available here.
Photo of Cumbria County Council offices by Alexander P Kapp via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons licence