Ben Butler: Britain’s vilest father

BY HENRY VAUGHAN

Ben Butler was a father of ‘pure evil’ who welcomed his daughter home to murder her.

The 36-year, old had been jailed for assaulting Ellie, aged six, as a baby, but the conviction was overturned and she was returned to her parents and her death.

Butler’s partner Jennie Gray, also 36, who thought she had a career as an actress after appearing as an extra in EastEnders was convicted of child cruelty and covering up for her him.

The pair staged the murder scene to make it look like a tragic accident and even forced Ellie’s younger sibling to ‘discover’ her dead body as part of the sickening charade.

The little girl was left lying in her bedroom for two hours on 28 October 2013 before her parents phoned for help in a ‘cold-blooded’ 999 call.

Paramedics arrived minutes later to find Ellie already cold.

She had suffered catastrophic head injuries more commonly seen in a high-speed car crash while Butler was looking after her at their home in Sutton, southwest London.

Butler’s interview

Butler and graphic designer Gray claimed to be the victims of an elaborate establishment conspiracy following a bitter legal battle to get Ellie back.

But an Old Bailey jury did not believe their string of far-fetched theories, including a fall from a tiny chair as their daughter copied her favourite cartoon character ‘Peppa Pig.’

The pair held hands, looked each other in the eyes and exchanged their final words before the jury of eight women and four men returned their verdicts after two days of deliberations.

Butler was removed from the dock as he ranted of his innocence, shouting: ‘Do it now.’

‘I want to be sentenced now so I can fight in the Court of Appeal to prove this is wrong.’

The jury did not know that before meeting Gray, Butler was involved in another violent relationship with Hannah Hillman, 32.

She told how his eyes would turn ‘smaller and black’ and he would almost foam at the mouth before meting out his savage beatings – once with an iron bar.

Hillman, who was with Butler in 2004 and 2005, said he would get a look of ‘pure evil’ and feared he would kill her when he lost his temper.

He got Gray pregnant soon after meeting her in March 2006 but did not bother to go to the birth.

The first time Butler looked after baby Ellie she suffered radiator burns to her head and hand.

The next time he was alone with her, on 15 February 2007, she was rushed to hospital with severe head injuries that Butler was accused of causing by violently shaking her.

Ellie’s black eye – inflicted by her evil father

He was found guilty of causing both injuries by a jury and jailed in March 2009 but a High Court judge quashed the convictions on the basis of new medical evidence, without making findings on how the injuries were caused.

By then Ellie was happily living with her loving maternal grandparents, Linda and Neal, who battled along with Sutton Council to keep her and her sibling safe.

But Mrs Justice Hogg exonerated Butler and Gray of any wrongdoing in an extremely rare public ruling in which she spoke of a ‘happy end’ and said: ‘It is a joy for me to oversee the return of a child to her parents.’

In an emotional outburst in court, Ellie’s grandfather Neal Gray is said to have warned her: ‘You will have blood on your hands.’

It can now be revealed Hogg dismissed evidence of domestic abuse, glossed over convictions for violence and overlooked Butler and Gray’s admitted lies.

Butler was jailed in July 2001 for attempted robbery and intimidating witnesses and by 2006 had committed a string of drunken attacks on victims including Hillman.

Gray’s interview

But the High Court judge believed him when he said he was ‘not that bad’ and accepted Gray’s evidence that regular facial bruising was caused by Botox injections.

Butler and Gray had lied to the authorities about their continuing relationship and tried to pretend he was not the father of Ellie’s younger sibling.

Again Hogg sided with the parents and said: ‘They have carried an intolerable burden for the last five-and-a-half years.’

The judge, who retired weeks before the start of the Old Bailey trial, then ordered Sutton council to tell police, schools and doctors to ‘wipe the slate clean’ for the family and appointed ‘two-man band’ independent social workers to oversee the children’s return to their parents.

The ruling sparked a PR offensive by Butler who convinced newspaper journalists he was a ‘doting dad’ whose daughter had been wrongly torn away from him in a ‘miscarriage of justice’.

He even appeared on TV’s ‘This Morning’ to tell viewers of his six-year battle for justice.

To the outside world he and Gray appeared to be loving parents and their children were always well-dressed, clean and materially well provided for.

Home videos played in court showed family trips to parks, games arcades and fun fairs.

But within the four walls of their home in Westover Close, jobless Butler would become increasingly frustrated in his role as full-time dad and house husband.

‘He was an angry and violent man with a short fuse. The make-up of the man dominated his and his family’s domestic life,’ said prosecutor Ed Brown QC.

The barrister described how Butler was ‘consistently teetering on the edge of a violent loss of temper’ and said of Gray: ‘Her actions flowed from the abusive and violent relationship she had with Butler with her enduring but quite irrational devotion to him.

‘She put Butler’s welfare above all else, including that of her children.’

In desperate internet searches not shown to the jury, Gray revealed how Butler broke her nose and stabbed her in the leg when she was pregnant.

Butler beat her on her birthday and a work colleague described seeing a ‘Tom and Jerry’ type lump on her forehead the following day.

He even attacked her in hospital where she had used a fake name to escape his domestic violence.

Pic shows Jennie Gray at the Old Bailey today. Trial of Ben Butler accused of beating his six-year-old daughter Ellie to death in a fit of rage, and partner Jennie Gray for covering up the crime. BOTH CONVICTED ALL CHARGES. 21.6.16 SEE STORY CENTRAL NEWS

Petulant to the end…the cruel mother

Gray was also subjected to an almost constant tirade of vile text messages that police said in itself amounted to a ‘very serious form of abuse’.

The violence was not restricted to his partner, with both children suffering a string of injuries in the short time they spent with their parents.

Butler likened his daughter to the partner he despised and took his daughter to the doctor to have her ears pinned back.

Ellie’s extremely painful broken shoulder went untreated and harrowing video footage showed her with a black eye and bandaged leg as Butler barked down the phone: ‘Now f*** off.’

Then on 28 October 2013 Butler’s sudden loss of temper caused him to inflict devastating injuries on her.

Only he knows how he caused her death at around 12.45pm, but experts believe Ellie could have been hit with a blunt object or thrown against a wall.

Gray was summoned home from work in an office block opposite the court where they would later stand trial.

The pair staged the scene to make it look like an accident, placing Ellie’s little body next to an open wardrobe beside a tiny upturned Disney Princess stool.

Butler disposed of evidence then took the family Jack Russell puppy, Minnie, for a walk to convince neighbours everything was fine.

‘He was going about a cover-up in a calculated, cynical and cold-blooded way,’ said Mr Brown.

The couple then sent Ellie’s younger sibling in to find the body before ringing for an ambulance at 2.46pm – at least two hours after she was killed.

The chilling 999 call in which both parents feign panic was described by the prosecutor as an ‘extraordinary performance’.

Gray even pumped down on the chest of her daughter’s lifeless little body in a doomed attempt at CPR as Butler demanded: ‘What happened?’

The once hopeful actress continued the lie to police when she was interviewed as a witness and told how she had called Ellie down for cake before discovering her daughter.

The performance continued throughout an eight-week trial as Butler claimed he was being ‘tucked up’ by the authorities as revenge for his exoneration over the injuries to Ellie in 2007.

He swore repeatedly as he gave evidence and observers became familiar with his extraordinary courtroom rants in which he blasted police, prosecutors and medical experts.

Obedient Gray nodded along and even rewarded him with mini high fives as he returned to the dock during breaks in the court day.

She stuck to her lines to the letter but Butler was visibly not pleased with her performance and shook his head as she took her seat after a mauling from the prosecutor.

Butler, formerly of (14) Westover Close, Sutton, denied murdering his daughter on 28 October 2013.

Gray, formerly of the same address, pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice between 27 and 30 October 2013.

The couple both denied cruelty to a person under the age of 16 between 1 August and 29 October 2013.

Butler refused to accept the jury’s verdict as he was unanimously convicted of his daughter’s murder.

He stayed seated and shook his head, before he exclaimed: ‘I will fight for the rest of my life to prove it’s wrong.’

Gray stood and said ‘yeah’ as her partner launched into a tirade before shouting: ‘Big mistake.’

As lawyers discussed when he would be sentenced, Butler lost his rag and demanded: ‘Sentence me now. I want to be sentenced now, if you’re going to do it so I can fight in the appeal court to prove this wrong. Just sentence me now.

‘I will fight forever to prove this wrong. My daughter was jumping in that house… go to YouTube.’

Butler was referring to a leaked video posted online after the jury retired to consider its verdicts.

Not used in court, the heavily edited clip showed a police interview with Ellie’s younger sibling in which the child spoke of Ellie falling over while watching Peppa Pig.

It is not clear who posted the video that breached several court orders and threatened to derail the trial.

The Met’s DI Dave Reid said: ‘There is no doubt that Ben Butler is a man with a ferocious temper and a short fuse.

‘This was clear from the evidence we gathered during our investigation that showed how his volatile personality dominated family life.

‘He regularly teetered on the verge of a violent outburst and displayed extreme contempt for his partner Jennie Gray, who despite this put him before everything and anyone – even six-year-old Ellie.

‘Butler’s actions following Ellie’s death were those of a man only acting to save himself.

‘Having caused Ellie’s injuries in a violent rage and whilst she lay dead or dying, he didn’t call for an ambulance but instead called Gray, whom he knew would rush home and do whatever it took in order to protect him.

‘Butler and Gray then set about orchestrating a set of lies to blame everyone but themselves for Ellie’s murder and the events leading up to it.

‘They lied throughout the investigation and continued making outlandish accusations against a variety of people and organisations throughout their trial at the Old Bailey.

‘However, investigating Ellie’s murder and tragic story meant detectives gathered a huge amount of harrowing evidence that proved Butler did indeed kill Ellie and Gray helped him cover it up.

‘Whilst their convictions today will bring little comfort to Ellie’s beloved grandparents with whom she lived for the majority of her short life or to all those who loved her, I hope they will go some little way to assuring them justice has now been achieved.’

Gray was only told on the day of the sentencing that her mother died during the trial and she bent double in floods of tears.

She and Butler sobbed as his barrister Di Middleton said: ‘He will continue to fight to clear his name as he did in 2007.’

She said her client has requested samples taken from Ellie’s dead body should be kept.

‘On any view, after 2007, this was a broken family, a broken man,’ she added.

Butler was sentenced to life with a minimum of 23 years and told by the judge: ‘You may never be released.’

Gray was jailed for 42 months for covering up the brutal murder and child cruelty.

Butler received a five-year concurrent sentence for child cruelty for inflicting an untreated shoulder fracture suffered by Ellie in the weeks before her death.

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Tragic Ellie with the father who would beat her to death

Mr Justice Wilkie told Butler: ‘I am satisfied, having conducted this trial and having observed you closely for in excess of two months that you were very far from being a good parent.

‘You were a self-absorbed, ill-tempered, domineering man who regarded your children and partner as trophies, having no role other than to fit in with your infantile and sentimentalised view of family life, with you as the patriarch, whose every whim was to be catered for.’

Butler and Gray bowed their heads and exchanged whispered words during the sentencing hearing.

The judge told Gray she must have known her daughter was in pain after Butler broke her shoulder on 1 October but said he was prepared to accept she had suffered it accidentally.

Of her role in the cover-up, the judge said: ‘I have concluded that you rushed home, knowing that something terrible had happened to Ellie. I am prepared to accept that you believed Ben Butler, as you had on numerous other occasions, when he told you that Ellie had suffered yet another accident.

‘I am prepared to conclude that such was the depth of your dependence on Ben Butler and your need to believe him, that he was able to abuse your trust and gullibility and persuade you that the deceit you were about to embark on was necessary to protect him, an innocent man, from a second round of injustice.

‘It may be that you were exceptionally naive and stupid to believe him, but you still had to carry out the plan and you did so with total commitment and you have continued to do so in this court by lying to the jury about matters you well knew were not true.’

He told her: ‘You played your full part in the grotesque charade that was the 999 call whilst subjecting your dead daughter to the indignity of pointless CPR when you well knew that she had been dead for over two hours.’

The judge added: ‘Your part in this offending was the result, as I find it, of your unquestioning and deluded devotion to Ben Butler who, by a combination of physical, emotional and verbal abuse so dominated you that you were disabled from seeing what, to any right thinking person would be obvious, that it was he who had harmed and hurt Ellie on 1 October 2013 and killed her on 28 October 2013.’

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