Ellie Butler murder: Grandfather tells how she begged not to be returned to her parents

By Patrick Sawer, Leon Watson

Ellie Butler begged not to be returned to her abusive father less than a year before he murdered her, the six-year-old's grandfather said.

Neal Gray said his granddaughter used to hide when social workers visited their home, because she feared being sent to live with her father Ben Butler and her mother Jennie Gray.

Butler, 36, was jailed for a minimum of 23 years on Tuesday after being convicted of Ellie's murder. Her mother was found guilty of child cruelty and jailed for 42 months.

In 2009 Butler had been convicted of shaking Ellie as a baby. However this was later quashed on appeal and in 2012 the High Court ruled that Ellie should be returned to Butler's care, despite the warnings of police and social workers.

Read more:
• The tragic series of events that saw a judge grant violent father custody of girl who was dead just a year later

Mr Gray has now called for a public inquiry to be held into his granddaughter's death, which came just months after the decision by Mrs Justice Hogg to reunite her with Butler.

He: "She was absolutely petrified of the social workers, she told them she didn't want to go back and she started to have night dreams where she was scared they [her parents] were going to come and take her away in the night.

"She used to hide behind the curtains or under the duvet every time they turned up at our house."

Butler appeared to be a devoted father.
Butler appeared to be a devoted father.

Mr Gray and his late wife Linda were Ellie's guardians for five years after Butler was convicted of child abuse.

He told yesterday how he had warned Mrs Justice Hogg that she would have "blood on her hands" if Ellie was returned to her father.

He said: "I said 'I hope you all have a conscience, because one day you may have blood on your hands in regards to my granddaughter Ellie'."

Mr Gray described how Ellie had repeatedly made it clear that she wanted to remain with him and his late wife, but that their attempts to adopt the little girl had been thwarted by Mrs Justice Hogg and the private social workers she appointed, despite the support of their own local authority, the London Borough of Sutton.

He said: " We found it very devastating , we tried to fight it tooth and nail but every time we were protested we were told we were troublemakers and we were elderly people and we weren't worthy of looking after children.

Ellie Butler lived with her grandparents.
Ellie Butler lived with her grandparents.

"The local authority fought tooth and nail to back myself and my wife, who is now departed from this world, to keep Ellie. But Mrs Justice Hogg had had it in her mind that we were unworthy to look after Ellie."

Mr Gray described Ellie as "fantastic", telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "She was very bubbly, beautiful little girl on the go all the time. Lots of energy like little children have, very brainy. It was the best years of our lives."

Mr Gray recalled the last time he saw Ellie, at a McDonald's in Sutton, on October 27, 2013 - the day before she died of severe head injuries inflicted by Butler.

He said: "She wasn't the Ellie we knew. She had bruises on her forehead and face. Her hair was bedraggled, she had odd shoes and socks. She looked as though she had been dragged through a hedgerow. There was a sadness in her eyes."

Butler played the devoted father.
Butler played the devoted father.

Mr Gray added: "We want a public inquiry to find out why the judiciary didn't do their job correctly and why social services failed Ellie, especially on the private side. Everybody failed Ellie, completely and utterly."

The author of a serious case review into Ellie's death criticised Mrs Justice Hogg's handling of the matter.

Marion Davis, a former president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, told the Guardian on Thursday: "I think the crux of the matter rests with Mrs Justice Hogg. The extra steps she took were unwarranted.

Gray and Butler appeared on This Morning to plead his innocence. Photo / ITV
Gray and Butler appeared on This Morning to plead his innocence. Photo / ITV

"She [Hogg] gave permission for a letter exonerating Ben Butler of causing any harm to Ellie to be circulated to all agencies and said he was victim of a miscarriage of justice. This is the most extraordinary element of the whole case. Once that court judgment from Mrs Justice Hogg was in place there was virtually

Mrs Justice Hogg retired from the High Court earlier this year, six days before the start of Butler's trial for murder.

The former judge left her London home on the same day Butler was convicted of Ellie's murder and is understood to have travelled to her country home in East Sussex.

Asked if she felt responsible for Ellie's death she said only: "It's not personal."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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