Grandfather's anger over legal aid bill for Ellie Butler's killer father
The grandfather of murdered six-year-old Ellie Butler has told how his life savings were wiped out fighting for her custody while taxpayers picked up her killer father's vast legal bill.
Jobless Ben Butler and partner Jennie Gray, both 36, were reportedly granted nearly £1.5 million legal aid over 15 years to pay lawyers' fees, including his bills for a series of petty crimes and the custody battle that left Ellie's grandparents penniless.
Butler inflicted horrific head injuries on the youngster while left home alone in Sutton, South London, to look after her and her younger sibling in October 2013.
Before her brutal death Neal Gray, 70, and his late wife, Linda, spent £80,000 and took on extra work to cover legal fees in their desperate but failed attempt to save the youngster in the Family Courts.
"We spent our life savings and took two extra cleaning jobs to fight for Ellie. It was incredibly hard and all we wanted to do was look after our granddaughter," Mr Gray told the Daily Mail.
"We were willing to do anything to get her back. We fought tooth and nail. But it wasn't an even playing field, we ran out of money and ended up not being represented in the case. It makes me very angry, it's just unbelievable.
"We were turned down for legal aid but because they were on benefits they were able to get it. I'm sure the ordeal killed my wife and now I don't have her or Ellie."
Through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) the Daily Mail obtained details of Butler and Gray's legal aid grants that reportedly totalled £1,449,899 over 15 years.
It is said to include £1,185,285 for "civil representation", which includes cases in the Family Court.
Gray reportedly received £223,266 for her legal team during the final four-month hearing that ended with Ellie being returned to her parents. Butler's bill has not been submitted.
Butler was jailed for a minimum of 23 years for murder following a trial at the Old Bailey, the first day of which saw Mrs Gray succumb to cancer. He was also sentenced to five years to run concurrently for breaking Ellie's shoulder and failing to get her medical attention weeks before her death.
The criminal proceedings were repeatedly delayed after he fired two legal teams.
Gray was jailed for 42 months after being found guilty of child cruelty having admitted perverting the course of justice.
An MoJ spokesman said: "The Government has taken action to reduce legal aid expenditure. It has fallen by over 20% since 2010.
"Anyone facing a Crown Court trial is eligible for legal aid, subject to a strict means test, but may be required to pay significant contributions - up to the entire cost of their defence.
"The Government has cut the fees paid to lawyers in criminal legal aid cases, such as these, to ensure legal aid represents better value for the taxpayer."