| 6.9°C Belfast

Father 'killed daughter, 6, after conviction for assaulting her was overturned'


Ben Butler and Jennie Gray are on trial at the Old Bailey

Ben Butler and Jennie Gray are on trial at the Old Bailey

Ben Butler and Jennie Gray are on trial at the Old Bailey

A violent and abusive father killed his six-year-old daughter after successfully appealing against his conviction for assaulting her as a baby, a court has heard.

Ben Butler, 36, had been found guilty of causing serious head injuries to little Ellie Butler in 2007 and she was put into foster care.

But when his conviction was quashed in 2010, Butler and his partner Jennie Gray launched a High Court bid to get her back.

In November 2012, Ellie was duly returned to the "toxic" family home in Westover Close, Sutton, south-west London, jurors were told. Less than a year later, she was dead.

Butler allegedly caused her "catastrophic head injuries" while Gray was at work in the City of London on October 28 2013.

He then acted out an "elaborate" charade with the child's mother in an attempt to get away with murder, the court heard.

Graphic designer Gray had left her offices just yards from the Old Bailey and rushed home immediately after Butler had called her on the day of Ellie's death.

But rather than calling emergency services, Gray, 36, helped hide the truth of what her domineering partner had done.

The couple allegedly only called 999 an hour after Gray arrived home - two hours after Ellie was fatally hurt.

Butler is on trial for murdering his daughter while both parents are accused of child cruelty relating to an untreated broken shoulder Ellie suffered weeks before her death. They deny the charges.

Opening the trial, prosecutor Edward Brown QC said Ellie died after suffering "very significant fractures to her skull" as the result of "really significant force".

Ellie had finger tip bruises under the jaw and the evidence suggested she was thrown against a wall or hit with a heavy object, jurors were told.

Medical experts found that her head injuries would normally be found in a high speed road crash or a fall from a significant height - rather than a domestic accident.

Mr Brown told jurors of "truly disturbing" evidence about the Butler household in the weeks and months leading up to the killing.

Frustrated house-husband Butler was often very angry and was particularly resentful of his responsibility to look after Ellie, expressing hatred for her, the court heard.

The police investigation unravelled the complex relationship between Butler and Gray through hundreds of text messages.

While controlling Butler called his partner a "dog whore" and an "ugly bitch", she professed her love and said she would do anything for him, the court heard.

She chronicled their dysfunctional relationship in a diary and searched the internet to find help and comfort from "magic spells to make him love me again", jurors were told.

A handwritten note entitled "Ellie's Behaviour" was found at the family home with a list of 10 points including "Lying - constantly lies and even for no reason", "constantly manipulative", and "feel you can't trust her".

Mr Brown told jurors that Gray's actions in the hours after Ellie's death flowed from this abusive relationship and her "irrational devotion" to him.

During this time, Butler was seen acting normally, taking his dog for a "nonchalant" walk and remarking on the weather to a neighbour.

All the time, he was disposing of evidence which would expose his true abusive nature, the court heard.

Clothes were put in the wash and Butler dumped Gray's torn-up diary in a communal bin, the court heard.

The couple "staged" the scene to fit the story that Ellie was found in the bedroom by the other child in the house as they called her down for a slice of cake.

At 2.46pm, the couple made what appeared to be a "heart-rending" 999 call screaming and shouting for help.

Paramedics arrived to find Ellie in her bedroom, lying on her back on the floor next to an overturned child's pink stool by her wardrobe where the parents said they found her.

Mr Brown told jurors that the couple clearly implied that Ellie had a "tragic accident" moments before they called for an ambulance.

But he said: "This was a planned, carefully coordinated and elaborate cover-up, designed wholly to mislead and divert attention in particular away from Ben Butler."

When he was arrested, Butler made no comment while Gray stuck to her "lying" account, and even claimed Butler had suggested they had chilli for tea as she made her way home in a taxi.

Initially Gray had denied perverting the course of justice by covering up the circumstances of Ellie's death b ut in May last year she admitted her lies.

She wept in the dock as her apparently desperate 999 call was played in court.

In it she told the operator: "My daughter is not breathing. Her colour. She's not moving. We need you to get an ambulance."

Mr Brown told the jury that it was all part of the "charade" to "save Butler's skin".

The trial was adjourned until tomorrow.