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Ellie Butler's mother admits lying about her death 'to protect an innocent man'

Published 24/05/2016

Jennie Gray said she feared her partner would be blamed
Jennie Gray said she feared her partner would be blamed

The mother of tragic Ellie Butler has admitted lying about the death of her daughter "to protect an innocent man".

Jennie Gray, 36, sobbed in court as she told how she delayed calling 999 for her daughter as "she was gone already".

The graphic designer then misled investigators out of fear that her partner Ben Butler would be blamed for harming her, as he was before, she said.

Giving evidence for a second day, Gray told jurors: "I said those things in reaction because I was terrified they were going to blame him when he has never laid a finger on my child, as they did this before.

"My worst fear came true - exactly what I thought would happen."

But under cross-examination, Ben FitzGerald said she was a "skilful and prolific liar" who was still lying to the jury at the Old Bailey.

The court has heard how Butler was convicted of shaking Ellie in 2007 when she was seven weeks old, but cleared on appeal.

The couple won a custody battle to get Ellie back just 11 months before she was allegedly battered to death by Butler while he was home alone with her and another child.

Jobless Butler, 36, urgently called Gray home to Sutton, south-west London, on the afternoon of October 28 2013, but waited two hours before ringing 999, the court heard.

On arriving home, Gray said: "I saw Ben on the floor shaking and I was frightened. He said to me 'I think Ellie's dead'.

"I said 'what are you talking about'. My whole body froze.

"I just went upstairs. I went into Ellie's room. I saw Ellie on the floor and she was just lying there, and I looked at her eyes - her pupils were big. I've never seen that before in my life.

"She was just so still and I could not think, my whole body froze. I got down near her. I tried to breathe air in her mouth. I heard a noise in her stomach and I saw her tummy come up and then this smell - a terrible smell.

"I knew she was gone, she was gone already."

As she broke down in the witness box, Butler slipped out of the dock before returning again to hear more of her evidence minutes later.

On the alleged cover-up before she called 999, she said: "You have that feeling in your stomach they are going to do it again. They are going to think he did it."

Cross examining, Mr FitzGerald said: "You are prepared to say almost anything to protect Ben Butler and your relationship with him.

"You have lied and lied to cover up Butler's violence to you and to Ellie. And you are still lying to this jury."

Gray replied: "Incorrect. Incorrect. I swore on the Bible and I'm a Christian and I would not do that lightly."

She denied "sacrificing" Ellie's well-being for the sake of her relationship, and putting the little girl second.

Turning to the 999 call, Mr FitzGerald said: "The screaming, the panic, the desperate call for the ambulance to come. You are saying it's not an act? It's not a charade?"

Gray insisted it was not.

On Gray's police interview, the prosecutor said: "You must have been in quite a state, but you found it within yourself to lie skilfully.

"I suggest you put on a quite remarkable performance in that interview."

An extract of the videoed interview was played to the jury.

In it, Gray said she remembered hearing Ellie playing in her room after she got home.

She described setting the table to have some cake, and calling Ellie down.

She screamed and sobbed as she described going upstairs to find her daughter collapsed on the floor immediately before calling 999.

Mr FitzGerald said: "Miss Gray, you are a skilful and prolific liar."

Gray replied: "I don't agree."

The prosecutor suggested the reason for the lies was to hide the fact that Ellie died in Butler's sole care.

Gray said: "It was more the fact we were suggesting we just found her."

When it was suggested the reason for hiding the truth was to protect Butler, she said: "The purpose of the interview was to protect an innocent man."

Gray has admitted perverting the course of justice in the wake of Ellie's death but denies child cruelty over an untreated broken shoulder.

Butler denies murdering Ellie and child cruelty.

Gray agreed she lied to police about why she had come home on the day of Ellie's death, the discovery of her body, and how quickly she called 999.

The court heard that Gray maintained her false account for the next year and a half, even though police had already begun to unravel the lies.

Mr FitzGerald said: "If there was a shred of truth to your explanation now, you would have said."

Gray replied: "I did keep the lie going, but I came out and decided I didn't want to lie. I needed to be honest and that's what I've done."

Mr FitzGerald said Butler and Gray went on to co-ordinate their stories leading up to May last year.

By the first planned trial, Butler changed his defence, admitting he did not call 999 for two hours.

The next day, Gray pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice.

The prosecutor asserted: "You have been co-ordinating your defence. Mr Butler calls the tune and you dance to it."

Gray responded: "No. I called the tune. He followed my tune."

The court heard that, after finding Ellie dead, Gray and Butler shut the door on her body and went downstairs, leaving another child in the house to discover her half an hour later.

Mr FitzGerald suggested the child finding Ellie's body was an "essential" part of the cover-up, but Gray denied it.

She admitted texting her work at 2.13pm, before the 999 call at 2.46pm, claiming to have gone home sick, but denied washing the shirt she was wearing to get rid of blood on the collar.

The prosecutor said: "Your 999 call was the most remarkable, cynical, staged piece of acting the jury could possibly imagine.

"It was well thought-out and it was remarkably acted and it was all part of this co-ordinated effort to disguise Ellie's true cause of death."

Gray replied: "That's not true."

The trial was adjourned until the morning.

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