Father jailed for murder of daughter won in court battle

Ellie Butler with her father Ben. Picture: PA
Ellie Butler with her father Ben. Picture: PA
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A father has been jailed for life for killing his six-year-old daughter in a fit of rage – 11 months after winning her back in a custody battle.

Ben Butler, 36, inflicted horrific head injuries on little Ellie while left home alone to look after her and her younger sibling in October 2013.

He was sentenced to a minimum of 23 years for murder and five years to run concurrently for breaking Ellie’s shoulder and failing to get her medical attention weeks before her death.

His partner, Jennie Gray, 36, was jailed for 42 months after being found guilty of child cruelty having admitted perverting the course of justice.

The couple angrily protested their innocence when jurors returned guilty verdicts on the third day of deliberations.

Gray told them they had made a “big mistake”, while Butler shouted he would “fight forever” in the appeal courts.

Sentencing, Mr Justice Wilkie told Butler: “You are a self-absorbed, ill-tempered, violent and domineering man who regarded your children and your partner as trophies, having no role other than to fit in with your infantile and 
sentimentalised fantasy of family life with you as the patriarch.”

The trial heard jobless Butler battered his daughter to death at the family home in Sutton, south London, in a momentary but volcanic loss of temper after months of subjecting his partner and daughter to abuse.

In an act of “selfish callousness”, he then put off dialling 999 for two hours and instead summoned Gray back from work in the City of London.

Mr Justice Wilkie said Butler’s “default position of selfish callousness came into play” as they embarked on an elaborate cover-up as their dead daughter lay unattended “like a carefully placed prop in a stage scene”.

Butler went out with Jack Russell puppy Minnie, waving to neighbours and commenting on the “awful” weather as he dumped incriminating evidence in communal bins.

The couple even involved Ellie’s younger sibling by sending the child into her room to “discover” the body on the pretext of fetching her for cake.

The child can be heard on the chaotic 999 call saying Ellie “won’t wake up” as Gray and Butler screamed and shouted at the operator. The killing came months after the children were returned to their parents following accusations that Butler violently shook Ellie when she was seven weeks old.

Butler had been found guilty of assaulting Ellie in 2007 but this was quashed on appeal. In November 2012, he was “exonerated” by a family court judge who declared a “happy ending” as she handed Ellie and her sibling back.