Tragic Ellie Butler asked to speak to judge who exonerated parents, inquest told
The headteacher at Ellie’s school raised concerns over a number of issues regarding the ruling to reunite the girl with her mother and father.
Ellie Butler, who was battered to death by her father, asked to speak to the judge who exonerated her parents and allowed her to be reunited with them, an inquest was told.
The six-year-old 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 by her father at their family home in Sutton, south London, in October 2013.
The headteacher of Beddington Infants’ School, Elizabeth Kearney, said she was concerned after being told that Ellie, a pupil, had expressed a wish to speak to the judge, as well as with the speed and manner of her transition to live with her parents.
She said she was concerned that Ellie would not be able to continue the “loving relationships” she had formed with her grandparents and that she may be moved to another school away from her friends.
She was also wary about the plan for the “handover” to take place at the school, which she was keen to keep neutral for Ellie.
Ms Kearney told South London Coroner’s Court in Croydon she wrote a letter to the judge months after her ruling outlining her fears, but did not send it after coming to the view it would not change things.
Asked about her concerns, she said: “I was aware that this girl loved her current family, I was aware that there was a concern that she might not see that current family after the move because there was a difficult relationship.
Ellie was happy at school and I wanted to keep that as a safe space, untainted Elizabeth Kearney, Beddington Infants' school headteacher
“I put myself in the child’s position and I imagined losing my entire family and my dog and moving to a whole new family, and while she had by now met her mother and father a few times, that’s not a relationship.
“Ellie was happy at school and I wanted to keep that as a safe space, untainted.”
The scope of the inquest will not consider the “merits or wisdom” of the ruling.
Ms Kearney said considering that Ellie, “a five-year-old child, had asked to speak to the judge… I felt I needed to do something about that” and this led her, “rightly or wrongly” to write the letter.
Ben Butler, who was listening to proceedings via video link from prison, where he is currently serving life with a minimum term of 23 years for Ellie’s murder, interrupted her by shouting out: “Who says she asked?”
His numerous interruptions prompted retired high court judge Dame Linda Dobbs, who is sitting as coroner for the inquest, to urge him to “bite his tongue”.
Ellie’s mother, Jennie Gray, was given a 42-month term after being found guilty of child cruelty. She had admitted perverting the course of justice.
Ms Kearney said she had concerns raised with her about the language used in a meeting between an independent social work agency worker and Ellie, where a “good judge” and a “bad judge” were mentioned.
In another meeting, Ellie was put in an “extremely difficult position” by being told that whoever she chose not to live with would be upset, she said.
Asked about what she felt the impact of the move was on Ellie, Ms Kearney admitted she did not observe a significant change of behaviour in the child.
But, she pointed out, she only attended the school for eight and a half days over a number of weeks after she started living with her parents – a steep fall compared to her previous attendance rate in the 90% range – before moving to another school.
The inquest will examine whether there were failures on the part of the authorities with regard to Ellie’s murder, including the sharing of information, co-operation and communication between organisations.
It is expected to last two weeks.