Judge: Ellie Butler murder case ruling too sensational to be reported

Judge: Ellie Butler murder case ruling too sensational to be reported

A UK family court judge's ruling relating to the murder of six-year-old Ellie Butler will make "front page news" if it is published - another judge has forecast.

The ruling was made by Mrs Justice Eleanor King following a behind-closed-doors hearing in the Family Division of High Court in the summer of 2014 - after Ellie had died but before her father, Ben Butler, had been convicted of murder.

Another family court judge has decided that Mrs Justice King's ruling should not be published in case reporting prejudices any re-trial if Butler mounts an appeal.

Mrs Justice Pauffley last month rejected an application from several media organisations, who argued that publication of Mrs Justice King's ruling would be in the public interest in the wake of Butler's conviction.

Now, Mrs Justice Pauffley has published her full written ruling on the media organisations' application - and outlined the thinking behind her decision.

The judge said she was "fully aware" of the level of public interest in the case and said the arguments in favour of Mrs Justice King's ruling being published were "powerful and strong".

But she said publication was likely to generate "very extensive" reporting - and said she had decided that it should remain under wraps if there was "any potential for a re-trial".

Last month, following a trial at the Old Bailey, Butler was convicted of murdering Ellie and given a minimum 23-year jail term. Ellie's mother, Jennie Gray, was given a 42- month term after being found guilty of child cruelty - and admitting perverting the course of justice.

A number of family court judges - including two High Court judges who are based in the Family Division of the High Court in London - had overseen private hearings about Ellie.

The little girl had been placed in the care of her grandparents after Butler was accused of shaking her when she was a baby.

But she was returned to the care of Butler - and her mother - following a ruling by Mrs Justice Hogg in 2012. Mrs Justice King analysed issues in 2014 following Ellie's death.

Social services bosses at the London Borough of Sutton, who had responsibility for Ellie's welfare, had asked Mrs Justice King to make ''findings of fact'' to help staff take decisions about the future of a younger sibling.

Ben Butler.
Ben Butler.

Mrs Justice King, who is now a Court of Appeal judge, concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, Butler had been ''responsible for Ellie's death''. The judge said she had suffered a skull fracture.

But her full ruling has not been revealed.

"All the signs are that the criminal processes involving Ben Butler are not yet over," said Mrs Justice Pauffley in her ruling on the media organisations' application for publication of Mrs Justice King's judgment.

"As is reported on the BBC website, after the guilty verdict, Mr Butler shouted out, 'I'll fight for the rest of my life. Unbelievable' before adding, 'I want to be sentenced now so I can fight in the appeal court'."

Mrs Justice Pauffley added: "The reporting of Mrs Justice King's judgment, were I to give permission to release it to the media, is likely to be very extensive indeed. It will be, if I am able to forecast anything, front page news."

The judge said she was "fully aware" of the extent of public interest in the circumstances of the case.

She said she accepted that family courts had been placed under a "spotlight".

But she said while there was "any potential for a retrial" Mrs Justice King's ruling should not be published.

"One scenario, quite obviously, is that Mr Butler might seek to argue that consequent upon the publicity accompanying the publication of Mrs Justice King's judgment, which is bound to contain a great deal more material than is currently in the public domain, he could not be assured of a fair trial," said Mrs Justice Pauffley.

"That possibility, the potential for that eventuality, inevitably compels me to dismiss this application."

She added: "One thing though should emerge and be made abundantly clear. The arguments in favour of the release of Mrs Justice King's judgment are powerful and strong. They will remain so. I fully expect that so soon as the criminal appeals process is at an end a full, suitably redacted version ... will be published."


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