'Evil' father jailed for life for murdering daughter months after custody battle
"Evil" Ben Butler has been jailed for life for killing his six-year-old daughter in a fit of rage - 11 months after winning her back in a high-profile custody battle.
Jobless Butler, 36, inflicted horrific head injuries on little Ellie while left home alone to look after her and her younger sibling in October 2013.
He was sentenced to a minimum of 23 years for murder and 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.
The couple angrily protested their innocence when jurors returned guilty verdicts on the third day of deliberations.
Gray told them they had made a "big mistake", while Butler shouted that he would "fight forever" in the appeal courts.
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 the 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 daughter to abuse.
In an act of "selfish callousness", 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 Butler's "default position of selfish callousness came into play" as 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 Jack Russell puppy Minnie, waving casually to neighbours and commenting on the "awful" weather as he dumped incriminating evidence in communal bins.
The judge told a sobbing Gray that she would have been "exceptionally naive and stupid" to take part in the plan that was "cynicism and selfishness at an almost unbelievable level".
He told Gray: "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 child can be heard on the chaotic 999 call saying Ellie "won't wake up" as Gray and Butler screamed and shouted at the operator.
The killing came months after the children were returned to their parents following 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 Ellie and her sibling 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 has found that the judge had handed "all the power to the parents" so Ellie's concerned teachers and other agencies were "paralysed" from saving her.
During 2013, Butler, who had a string of convictions for violence, had become frustrated at being a stay-at-home father while graphic designer Gray was the breadwinner.
The jury was shown a stream of expletive-ridden text messages which showed Butler as violent towards his partner and constantly on the brink of exploding at the children.
In secret diary entries, Gray described being kneed in her genitals and "badly hurt" by her partner.
She also 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, the court heard. 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 and claimed he was not having a "fair trial".
He claimed Ellie cracked her skull by tripping on the stairs while playing with the puppy more than two weeks before her death.
The injury could have become fatal if she had fallen in her bedroom while jumping up and down with Peppa Pig on the television, it was claimed.
But medical experts for the prosecution said she had at least one blunt force impact from being thrown against a wall or struck with a heavy blunt weapon.
Gray admitted attempting to cover up for her partner but said it was only to protect an "innocent man".
It can now be reported that Mrs Justice King, in the High Court, ruled in 2014 that Butler killed Ellie as she considered the future of her sibling.
Butler's ex-girlfriend, Hannah Hillman, whom he had admitted assaulting in the past, described him as "pure evil" in a witness statement which was not given to the jury.
While the jury was deliberating, a video of the younger sibling being interviewed by police was leaked on YouTube, in breach of court orders. The material, which was not shown to jurors, has now been removed as police investigate.
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 in life."
Mrs Gray died during the course of the trial but her estranged daughter was not told until the day of her conviction.