Father who had child returned to him found guilty of murdering her

Ben Butler killed Ellie Butler 11 months after High Court returned her to his care against wishes of local authority and grandparents

Ellie Butler
Ellie Butler, who was murdered by her father, Ben Butler (Photo: Rex/Shutterstock)

A father who won a battle to have his child returned to his care has been found guilty of murdering her.

Ben Butler, 36, was sentenced to life in prison today for murdering his six-year-old daughter Ellie in October 2013, 11 months after she was returned to his care despite Sutton council and her grandparents fighting to prevent it. He will serve a minimum of 23 years.

Butler, who had a history of assault, was jailed in 2009 after being convicted of shaking Ellie as a baby, after which she was taken into local authority care and lived with her grandparents.

That verdict was later quashed by the Court of Appeal, and, in 2012, he won a High Court challenge to have Ellie returned to his and his partner’s care in 2012, before he murdered her in October 2013.

The Guardian reports that the guilty verdict was unanimous, and the prosecution had said that Butler “consistently teetered on the edge of a violent loss of temper”.

Ellie died of “catastrophic” head injuries, it was reported, and sentencing will take place later today.

Her mother, Jennie Gray, was also convicted of child cruelty in relation to an untreated broken shoulder Ellie suffered. She had already pleaded guilty to covering up her daughter’s death and perverting the course of justice. She was sentence to 42 months in prison.

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12 Responses to Father who had child returned to him found guilty of murdering her

  1. nikki June 21, 2016 at 11:53 pm #

    I have no words…just tears…:(

  2. Tom J June 22, 2016 at 10:34 am #

    Had it been a social worker and not the Court of Appeal who had returned this child to her father – the front page of every newspaper would be calling for sackings and vilification of social workers. However as it was the Court of Appeal/judge who returned the child- no one bats an eye lid.

    I’m not suggesting that I think that vilification is the way forward, I am just pointing out the climate and expectations under which social workers are practicing.

  3. Angela June 22, 2016 at 10:49 am #

    Will there be the same public outcry about a Judge returning a child to a father who later killed her, as there is when social workers are castigated for apparently doing the same? The judiciary are not exempt from the same level of investigation and media attention as social workers.
    According to a report on Radio4 last night the judiciary even failed to provide information to the Serious Case Review. When will Judges be held accountable and expected to explain their decision making?

  4. Andrea June 22, 2016 at 11:08 am #

    The Judges decision and remarks in this case highlight what social workers already know – it’s not just ‘public’ opinion we are up against but that of the legal system. Is this not the case where ‘independent social workers’ were assigned to the case after judgement ?- so, wait for it, there’s still time…………………..!

  5. Stuart June 22, 2016 at 11:52 am #

    I’m expecting to see this judge struck off the HCPC.

    Oh, I forgot. They aren’t on it are they. Probably don’t have the CQSW…

  6. Lesley Wilson June 22, 2016 at 12:21 pm #

    The judiciary should be as accountable as other agencies. The fact they are not needs to be addressed. Social Workers cannot have their hands tied, then be blamed for the consequences

  7. Peter Endersby June 22, 2016 at 12:24 pm #

    The system is broken and no amount of SCR’s, Signs of Safety Training or private social work consultants are going make any difference.

    • LongtimeSW June 22, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

      Yes the system is broken – why? Because the blame focus is downward to the front line, with no backbone or principle by those in power that can make a difference and with the purse strings more and more being tied into ‘value for money’ and ‘performance targets’ – for goodness sake we are talking about vulnerable human beings here.

      Private = profit motive, anything else is secondary.

  8. Catriona Rooney June 22, 2016 at 1:22 pm #

    A case like this was only ever a matter of time. What this exposes is the fragility of the judgement call on how much risk someone may be present. The Judge no doubt made the call in good faith but there needs to be a very close examination of this along with the accompanying remarks when the judgement was made which effectively stymied any subsequent effective intervention by any statutory body. Ellie’s parents won their battle but the decision was her death sentence. Recriminations and blame will change nothing and cool heads are required (with a dollop of humility) that allows a more effective system to address cases such as Ellie Butler – beginning with a revision of the adversarial legal system which does not and never will serve the interests of children.

  9. LongtimeSW June 22, 2016 at 2:45 pm #

    The Court needs to reflect on the Grandparent’s final words to the High Court ‘You will have Ellie’s blood on your hands’

    Note that the Judge involved retired early and would not appear at the Serious Case Review as is her right. Wonder what would be said if any other agency/individual did the same?

  10. Anne ward June 22, 2016 at 2:51 pm #

    It is 40+years since the report into the death of 9 year old Maria Colwell after a return to her family’s care. One of the many criticisms was the failure to hear Maria’s voice, not just by social workers but by Courts.
    Unlike Maria, Ellie’s death is not laid at the door of Local Authority failure and there is no avoiding the question of judicial accountability.

    Marion Davis’s overview report into Ellie’s death is one of the most accessible, thoughtful and cogent documents I have read in my time in children’s social work, 1970-2009.
    I hope current professionals can find time to read it; if pushed for time go to the section on Learning Points. The report does not pile up blame on professionals, but identifies important issues about accountability.

  11. A James June 22, 2016 at 10:41 pm #

    Why are only social workers accountable?