Inquest finds six-year-old Ellie Butler unlawfully killed but agencies not to blame

The action or inaction of agencies involved in the case of murdered six-year-old Ellie Butler cannot be said to have “possibly or probably” contributed to her death, a coroner has ruled.

The young girl, who was beaten to death by her father Ben Butler in 2013, was unlawfully killed, an inquest has formally determined.

The six-year-old was placed in the care of her grandparents as a baby after her father was accused of shaking her.

She was returned to the care of Butler, and her mother, in 2012 after a ruling by Mrs Justice Hogg in the family division of the High Court.

Ellie was battered to death at the family home in Sutton, south London, in October the following year.

Butler was convicted of her murder in June 2016 after a trial at the Old Bailey and jailed for life with a minimum term of 23 years.

Ellie’s mother, Jennie Gray, was given a 42-month term after being found guilty of child cruelty after the Old Bailey trial. She had admitted perverting the course of justice.

The inquest’s scope covered the period from July 6 2012 – the date of Mrs Justice Hogg’s decision – to Ellie’s death on October 28 2013.

The inquest was examining whether there were failures on the part of the authorities with regard to Ellie’s murder, including the sharing of information, co-operation and communication between organisations.

It was not examining the family court ruling which returned the schoolgirl to the hands of her abusive father.

Formally concluding the inquest with a 30-minute ruling, Dame Linda Dobbs said Ellie had been unlawfully killed, having suffered fatal head injuries caused by her father.

Delivering her ruling at South London Coroner’s Court, Dame Linda said: “Despite various failings which have been highlighted in the SCR (Services for Children) report and which will be addressed in a PFD (Prevent Future Deaths) report, on the evidence I am unable to conclude that any acts or omissions by the relevant agencies possibly or probably contributed to the death of Ellie.”

Following her ruling Dame Linda stressed that those worried about court judgments should feel able to raise those concerns.

She said: “Lawyers are only advisers, they are not decision makers. That responsibility lies with the agencies themselves.”

She added that anyone with concerns “as to the ramifications of any court order or any court judgment” should raise them.

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