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Ben Butler: Seemingly idyllic portrait of family life dad would go on to batter little Ellie (6) to death

Less than a year after winning her back in custody battle, dad killed daughter in fit of rage

By Emily Pennink

Published 22/06/2016

Ben Butler with his daughter Ellie
Ben Butler with his daughter Ellie
Ellie's mother Jennie

"Evil" Ben Butler has been jailed for life for killing his six-year-old daughter in a rage 11 months after winning her back in a high-profile custody battle.

Jobless Butler (36) inflicted horrific injuries on Ellie while left at home to look after her and younger sibling in October 2013.

He was sentenced to a minimum of 23 years for murder, with five years to run concurrently for breaking Ellie's shoulder and failing to get her medical attention weeks before her death.

His partner, Jennie Gray (36) was jailed for 42 months after being found guilty of child cruelty, having admitted perverting the course of justice.

Sentencing, Mr Justice Wilkie told Butler: "You are a self-absorbed, ill-tempered, violent and domineering man who regarded your children and your partner as trophies, having no role other than to fit in with your infantile and sentimentalised fantasy of family life with you as patriarch."

The trial heard that Butler battered his daughter to death at the family home in Sutton, south London, in a momentary but volcanic loss of temper after months of subjecting his partner and the little girl to abuse.

He then put off dialling 999 for two hours and instead summoned Gray back from work in the City of London.

Mr Justice Wilkie said they embarked on an elaborate cover-up as their dead daughter lay unattended "like a carefully placed prop in a stage scene".

Butler then went out with his dog, waving casually to neighbours and commenting on the "awful" weather as he dumped incriminating evidence.

The judge said to a sobbing Gray that she was "exceptionally naive and stupid" to have taken part in the plan.

He told her: "You played your full part in the grotesque charade that was the 999 call whilst subjecting your dead daughter to the indignity of pointless CPR when you knew full well she had been dead for two hours."

The couple even involved Ellie's younger sibling by sending the child into her room to "discover" the body on the pretext of fetching her for cake.

The killing came months after the children were returned to their parents after accusations that Butler violently shook Ellie when she was seven weeks old.

Butler had been found guilty of assaulting Ellie in 2007 but this was quashed on appeal.

In November 2012, he was "exonerated" by a family court judge who declared a "happy ending" as she handed the children back.

Mrs Justice Hogg had sided with Butler despite objections from police, social services and Ellie's maternal grandfather, Neal Gray. At the time, Mr Gray, who had cared for Ellie since she was a baby, had allegedly warned the judge that she would have "blood on your hands".

A serious case review found the judge had handed "all the power to the parents", so Ellie's concerned teachers and other agencies were "paralysed".

In 2013, Butler, who had a string of convictions for violence, was frustrated at being a stay-at-home father while graphic designer Gray was breadwinner.

The jury was shown a stream of expletive-ridden text messages which showed Butler as violent towards his partner.

Gray searched the internet for "urgent spells" to make Butler stop hurting her and love her again, the court heard.

Ellie suffered a series of bumps to the head, which the couple put down to "clumsiness" and falling on the stairs.

In October, Butler broke her shoulder bone, but neither parent sought medical treatment for the painful injury. Weeks later, she was dead.

Throughout the trial, the couple put on a united front and Gray denied they lived in a "house of horrors".

Butler accused authorities of bias against him because of the "miscarriage of justice" in 2007.

He claimed Ellie cracked her skull by tripping on the stairs while playing with the puppy before her death.

Gray admitted trying to cover for her partner, but said it was to protect an "innocent man".

In a statement, Ellie's grandparents, Linda and Neal Gray, described their devastation at losing their "shining light", adding: "We did not realise that some people could be so wicked."

Mrs Gray died during the course of the trial, but her estranged daughter was not told until the day of her conviction.

Belfast Telegraph

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