Ellie Butler inquest: Grandfather ‘disappointed’ agencies not called to account
An inquest ruled organisations could not be said to have contributed to the six-year-old’s death at the hands of her father.
The grandfather of murdered Ellie Butler said he is disappointed that social services and other agencies involved in the six-year-old’s care have not faced criticism after an inquest into her death.
Retired high court judge Dame Linda Dobbs concluded, after a two-week inquest which comes five years after the girl was killed by her father, that the organisations could not be said to have “possibly or probably” contributed to her death.
Ellie was unlawfully killed, having suffered fatal head injuries inflicted by her father, the inquest at South London Corner’s formally ruled on Tuesday.
The child was placed in the care of her grandparents as a baby after her father Ben Butler was accused of shaking her.
She was returned to the care of Butler, and her mother, in 2012 after a ruling by Mrs Justice Hogg in the family division of the High Court.
Ellie was battered to death at the family home by Butler in Sutton, south London in October the following year.
Butler was convicted of her murder in June 2016 after a trial at the Old Bailey and jailed for life with a minimum term of 23 years.
Ellie’s mother, Jennie Gray, was given a 42-month term after being found guilty of child cruelty after the Old Bailey trial.
She had admitted perverting the course of justice.
Ellie’s grandfather Neal Gray, speaking after attending court for the ruling in Croydon, became emotional as he described how any input to authorities from him or his late wife Linda during Ellie’s short life was “ignored”.
He said: “I am grateful that Dame Linda Dobbs has scrutinised this case, but disappointed that the agencies that, in my view, failed my dear granddaughter Ellie have not had to account for the role they played.
He added: “Ellie was let down by fundamental failings in the system. It is essential that lessons are learned so that no other child suffers like she did.”
I will consult with my legal team and this process is not yet over Neal Gray
He welcomed the news that a Prevent Future Deaths (PFD) report would be made on the case, saying he hoped it will “make concrete conclusions and provide clear directions about how childcare agencies must work together, even when faced with hostile and evasive parents.”
Mr Gray said he hoped those in Parliament and in the family courts would “sit up and take notice” of the PFD conclusion, as he described what happened to his granddaughter as a “very bad miscarriage of justice”.
He said Butler and Ellie’s mother Jennie Gray had been too “readily believed” by authorities, adding that had they not been his granddaughter would still be alive today.
Coroner Dame Linda said any failings would be addressed in the PFD report but added “on the evidence I am unable to conclude that any acts or omissions by the relevant agencies possibly or probably contributed to the death of Ellie.”
The decision that the inquest would cover only the period after the court decision to return Ellie to her parents was a missed opportunity, Mr Gray said.
He said this could have been a time to “reconsider and analyse the childcare law process and ensure that they are fit for purpose”.
Following her ruling Dame Linda stressed that those worried about court judgments should feel able to raise those concerns.
She said: “Lawyers are only advisers, they are not decision-makers. That responsibility lies with the agencies themselves.”
She added that anyone with concerns “as to the ramifications of any court order or any court judgment” should raise them.
Mr Gray said he will continue to fight for justice for his granddaughter, saying:
“I will consult with my legal team and this process is not yet over.”
He said he could not comment on what form any further action may take.
Christine Davies, independent chairwoman of the Sutton Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB), said she welcomed the ruling and “thoroughness” of the inquest.
She said: “Over the past two years, the main agencies in Sutton responsible for children’s welfare have worked hard to learn the lessons from Ellie’s death and put in place measures to ensure, as far as possible, such a tragedy never occurs again.”
A spokeswoman for Services for Children said: “The death of Ellie Butler is truly tragic. We remain deeply saddened and devastated by her ordeal, and our thoughts and sympathies are with her grandfather.
“The inquest looked at the relationships between authorities and agencies and we hope this will help to ensure that the most efficient system possible is in place to protect children in future.
“We will continue to be dedicated to supporting parents, families and professionals in caring for children.”
An NSPCC spokeswoman said: “The circumstances surrounding Ellie Butler’s death are truly harrowing. Her young life was brutally cut short by her own father, a man who should have loved and protected her from harm but who was ultimately responsible for her murder.
“The levels of violence and abuse in this case may be exceptional but they are by no means unique. It is therefore vital that all agencies involved in Ellie’s case and in child protection across the UK work to ensure the history of this appalling case is not repeated elsewhere.”