On 21st June, Ellie's parents - Ben Butler and Jennie Gray - were sentenced at the Central Criminal Court - see the Sentencing Remarks of Mr Justice Wilkie. Ben Butler was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder and the judge fixed his minimum term at 23 years (less days on remand). He also received 5 years for Child Cruelty. Those sentences will run concurrently. Jennie Gray was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for Child Cruelty and 24 months for Perverting the Course of Justice. Her sentences are consecutive.
Ben Butler - previous conviction quashed:
Ben Butler had been convicted in 2009 of causing Ellie grievous bodily harm but that conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal in 2010 - see this judgment paras 84-118. The Court of Appeal considered that the trial judge's directions to the jury relating to medical evidence had been defective. At para 200 the court said - "there was no logically justifiable basis upon which a reasonable jury properly directed could conclude that the expert evidence adduced by the Crown established guilt."
Care Proceedings for Ellie:
Care proceedings (see footnote) for Ellie were heard by Mrs Justice Hogg in the High Court in 2012. The outcome was that Ellie was returned to her parents. Hogg J stated that the father “had never caused harm to his child, in fact there was an innocent explanation for his child’s suspected injuries."
A letter to agencies:
Hogg J directed Sutton Council to send a letter to all agencies to inform them of Ben Butler’s exoneration. It was also directed that the letter should be prominently referenced in each agency’s file. The agencies included were all professional, educational, medical and social care bodies. The Judge concluded that not only was she satisfied that Ben Butler had never caused harm to his daughter, in fact there was an innocent explanation for his daughter’s injuries. In reaching this conclusion, the Judge had Ben Butler’s previous convictions before her.
The Local Authority acted on counsel's advice and chose not to appeal Hogg J's decision
Serious Case Review:
A Serious Case Review (SCR) has reported - Sutton Local Safeguarding Children Board.
A useful "timeline" and outline of the SCR findings is in the Full Press Release.
The SCR report observes that the judge's statement that Butler had not harmed his child left professionals feeling “powerless to act” despite their remaining sense of unease about the safety of Ellie.
After the High Court hearing, Ellie was not subject to court orders but the judge appointed an independent social work agency called Services for Children to assess and oversee the move of Ellie to her parents’ care. Services for Children were accountable to the Family Court and they concluded their work with the family in March 2013.
In line with statutory guidance, all agencies were asked by the SCR to provide an independent management review (IMR) of their involvement in this case. However, two IMRs were not provided. The Judiciary declined "for constitutional reasons" to provide an IMR but supplied the Family Court judgements. Services for Children did not provide an IMR and instead supplied a management review they had carried out themselves. In all, 19 IMRs were supplied to the Serious Case Review.
In care proceedings the child's welfare is paramount and there is a principle that orders are not made unless the court considers that doing so would be better for the child than making no order at all - Children Act 1989 section 1. Before either a care order or a supervision order can be made, the court has to be satisfied that the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm - Children Act 1989 section 31.