Secret family court ruling in Ellie Butler case published

Secret family court ruling in Ellie Butler case published
Ellie with her father Ben Butler.

A ruling relating to the murder of six-year-old Ellie Butler which had been kept under wraps for more than two years has been published.

The ruling, made by Mrs Justice Eleanor King following a private hearing in the Family Division of the High Court, was made public on Thursday after a number of media organisations took legal action.

Mrs Justice King analysed issues in June 2014 - after Ellie had died but before her father Ben Butler was convicted of her murder.

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

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

The King ruling was published following a decision by the Court of Appeal.

Earlier this summer, a number of media organisations asked a High Court judge to conclude that Mrs Justice King's ruling should be published.

They said publication would be in the public interest as a result of Butler's conviction.

But Mrs Justice Pauffley, who also sits in the Family Division of the High Court, rejected the application.

Editors then appealed and three Court of Appeal judges decided Mrs Justice Pauffley had been wrong.

Ellie died in October 2013.

Butler was convicted of murdering her in June 2016 following a trial at the Old Bailey - and given a minimum 23-year jail term.

Ellie's mother, Jennie Gray, was sentenced to 42 months in prison after being convicted of child cruelty. She had admitted perverting the course of justice.

A number of family court judges, including two High Court judges based in the Family Division, have overseen private hearings relating to the case.

Butler had been convicted of shaking Ellie when she was a baby - before being cleared on appeal.

The little girl had been placed with grandparents after Butler was accused of shaking her.

Following his appeal Mrs Justice Hogg re-analysed issues at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London.

She published a ruling in October 2012 and concluded that Ellie should be returned to the care of Butler and Gray.

Her decision was not challenged in the Court of Appeal by Sutton council bosses.

A council spokesman said lawyers had advised bosses that there were no grounds for appeal.

Mrs Justice King then analysed issues in 2014 - following Ellie's death - and was asked to help social services staff make decisions about the future of a younger sibling.

In her ruling, made on June 30, 2014, Mrs Justice King - who is now a Court of Appeal judge - said Mrs Justice Hogg's 2012 ruling had been "lengthy, detailed and careful".

Mrs Justice King said Ellie had been admitted to hospital on October 28 2013 after suffering a "significant head injury" when in the "sole care" of her father.

She said medical experts had concluded Ellie had been hurt as a result of "one or more severe blunt impacts" - they said her head had either struck a "rigid surface" or been "hit with a heavy blunt instrument".

The judge said post-mortem evidence showed that between two and four weeks earlier, Ellie had suffered "substantial blunt force trauma to her back".

Mrs Justice King said Butler had "wholly failed" to engage with family court proceedings.

He had failed to comply with court orders and been in contempt of court "time and again".

Butler and Gray had asked for family court proceedings to be adjourned until the criminal trial had ended - their application had been refused.

A lawyer representing Butler had said Butler would "decline to answer questions" if required to go into the witness box.

Shortly before Butler had been due to give evidence, at the family court hearing, Mrs Justice King said she had been informed that he "intended to play no further part in the proceedings".

Gray had "followed suit" and indicated that she too would play no further part.

Mrs Justice King said she had analysed written evidence contained in 24 lever arch files.

Mrs Justice King outlined the background and "events leading up to Ellie's death" in her ruling.

Butler and Gray had met in March 2006 and Gray became pregnant with Ellie "almost immediately".

They had not lived together.

When she was about two months old, Ellie had suffered burns to her fingers, encephalopathy and subdural and retinal haemorrhages after being taken to Butler's flat.

Mrs Justice King said Butler and Gray were involved in "petty offending" including shoplifting and benefit fraud.

Butler had been convicted of a number of "minor offences of violence".


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