08:07, March 11 365 0 theguardian.com

2018-03-11 08:07:09
Ellie Butler's grandfather says he wants justice to prevail at inquest

The grandfather of Ellie Butler, who was murdered by her father, says that he hopes the inquest into her death will allow him to finally lay his beloved granddaughter to rest.

The inquest, which opens on Monday, will seek to establish the roles of various services who were involved with Ellie before she died, including social services at Sutton council, of independent social workers from Services for Children, schools and medical professionals.

Ellie’s father, Ben Butler, is serving a life sentence for murder after the six-year-old sustained “catastrophic” head injuries at the family home in Sutton, south London, in 2013, 11 months after she was returned to her parents following a custody battle.

Her mother, Jennie Gray, was jailed for child cruelty for leaving Ellie with an untreated shoulder fracture in the weeks leading up to her death. The role of the family court in deciding to return Ellie to her parents will not be considered in the inquest.

Ellie had been cared for most of her life by her grandparents Neal and Linda Gray, who did not want her to return to her parents because of concerns about the child’s welfare. Ellie was returned to her parents in November 2012 after a court quashed Butler’s conviction for violently shaking her when she was a baby.

Butler beat Ellie to death in a violent rage while at home alone with her. Gray admitted her role in trying to make it appear that Ellie died two hours later than she had. The couple claimed her death was the result of an accident.

The couple have twice appeared via video link at pre-inquest hearings into Ellie’s death, interrupting proceedings several times.

“Ellie was a beautiful girl; always full of life. It was both a joy and a privilege to have known her, and I am enormously proud that she was my granddaughter,” Neal Gray told the Guardian. “Kind, clever and polite, Ellie had lots of friends, and was adored by her family; particularly by my late wife, Lin, with whom Ellie had a very special bond.

“Ellie came to live with us late in our lives, but she was like a breath of fresh air. We both absolutely idolised her; she gave us a new lease of life, and we will be forever grateful to her for enriching our lives.”

Gray questioned why Ellie had been removed from him and his late wife. “There is, in my mind, no plausible justification for the order to return Ellie to her mother. She was settled with us, and was happy and thriving. Her home was with us until she was almost six years old; it was unbearably cruel to have taken Ellie away from everything she knew, and to place her with virtual strangers. How that decision was reached is completely unfathomable to me.

“No stone must be left unturned in establishing what happened after Ellie was placed with Jennie Gray. This inquest must identify who had ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the placement was safe for Ellie, who was overseeing the placement, and who was monitoring how it was going.

“I want justice to prevail for my wonderful granddaughter, and I want to be reassured that this situation cannot happen again, so that no other child’s life will be so needlessly and horrifically lost.”

Gray’s solicitor Aysen Soyer, of Wilsons solicitors, said: “A child’s best interests must always be the family courts’ primary consideration, and that child’s voice must always be heard: these are the pillars of family law. In this case, these pillars crumbled, with devastating consequences. Lessons must be learned, and changes must be made, to ensure that no child slips so tragically through the cracks in the system again. Most importantly, we seek justice for Ellie, and peace for Neal Gray.”