‘Missed opportunities’ to save Poppy from her ‘blighted’ life

Poppy Widdison
Poppy Widdison

A RAFT of “missed opportunities” to better protect a four-year-old girl who was allowed to eat drugs for months before her death have been identified in a review of agencies’ involvement in her life.

Michala Pyke, 38, and John Rytting, 40, were both jailed for 13 years at Hull Crown Court on Thursday for child cruelty and drugs offences following the death of Pyke’s daughter, Poppy Widdison, in 2013.

A judge found Pyke had fed Poppy sedatives to “subdue and sedate her” to allow Pyke and Rytting to indulge their own “squalid passion” as they plunged the youngster into “a mire of drugs and utter degradation”.

But prosecutors did not charge the pair with any offences relating directly to Poppy’s death.

A serious case review which examined the family’s involvement with a range of agencies concluded: “This review has enabled multi-agency professionals to reflect on how (Pyke) managed to mislead professionals with apparent ease.

“The review has also shown more disturbingly, however, that despite the significant history known to various agencies, no single practitioner or service knew what life was like for (Poppy) or the extent to which she was exposed to risk and harm on a daily basis.”

It identified “a number of missed opportunities to better protect (Poppy)” before she was born and in the period after.

The review described how social services were involved with Poppy through a child in need plan for 13 months following her birth.

Social workers got involved with her life again when she was three years old, it said.

It said there were two referrals to children’s social care between these involvements - one was labelled a serious domestic abuse incident when Poppy’s father waved a chainsaw around in front of Pyke and their daughter.

Another was when a family member reported concerns that (Pyke) “was smoking cannabis, was lying in bed whilst (Poppy) was left alone and was using hairspray and perfume on (Poppy)”.

The review said the social worker was told by a drugs intervention project that (Pyke) was doing well in a recovery programme and they were not concerned.

It said: “A decision for no further action was made based on ‘no further evidence to substantiate the allegations’.”

It added: “The review found that practitioners adopted a mind-set of wanting evidence in support of allegations before acting rather than searching for evidence to refute the allegations before dismissing their validity.”

Poppy died in June 2013 after suffering a cardiac arrest at Rytting’s Grimsby home, where prescription and controlled drugs were “left lying around”.

A post-mortem examination could not establish a cause of death but toxicology tests carried out on her blood and hair found various drugs, and showed the young girl had been exposed to and had ingested significant amounts of heroin and methadone for a period of between two and six months before her death.

Judge Jeremy Richardson QC said on Thursday Pyke was “utterly unfit to be a mother” and saw her daughter as an “inconvenience” in her relationship with Rytting.

He found Pyke had fed Poppy sedatives to “subdue and sedate her” to allow Pyke and Rytting to indulge their own “squalid passion”.

Judge Richardson said to the pair: “You both bear huge responsibility for blighting the life of a pretty, vivacious little girl.”

The judge said Poppy was born a heroin addict and suggested Pyke even named her in reference to the drug.

He said the family “existed in the swamp of drug addiction and drug peddling”.

Separately, a family court judge ruled today that Poppy died after being assaulted by either Pyke or Rytting, following months of cruelty.

Poppy was either shaken or suffered a blow to the head in the assault, Judge Clive Heaton QC said at the hearing held at Hull Crown Court.

Judge Heaton said either Pyke or Rytting was responsible for the girl’s death but could not rule which of them carried out the fatal assault because they refused to tell the truth.

The judge said: “I unhesitatingly come to the conclusion that Poppy Widdison was subjected to a serious traumatic event on the morning of June 9 shortly before 8.41am.

“The event was some form of physical assault which inflicted injury upon Poppy.”

He continued: “Part of the assault involved Poppy being subjected to a shaking or shaking impact type event. The consequence was Poppy went into respiratory arrest, then cardiac arrest, then she lost her life.

“Whether (she died as a result of) a blow to the head or shaking event matters not.

“She died as a result of the assault.”

Judge Heaton added: “I unhesitatingly conclude that both know far more about how Poppy lost her life than either of them are prepared to say.

“The mother and Mr Rytting are seeking to conceal from view what happened in the flat that morning in order to protect themselves.”

He continued: “It’s not possible to say whether the mother acted alone or Rytting alone or whether they were both involved and what role each played.

“I am entirely satisfied, however, to the appropriate standard of proof that both knew what happened in the flat that morning.

“Having reflected carefully on the matter, I have come to the conclusion I can’t identify either of the two adults as the perpetrator of this traumatic event. Both of them end up in the pool.”