‘Volatility’ of father not seen as risk, social worker tells girl’s inquest

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An independent social worker has told an inquest that she did not see the “volatility” of a father who went on to beat his six-year-old daughter to death as a risk.

Ellie Butler was battered to death by Ben Butler at their family home in Sutton, south London, in October 2013, 11 months after being returned to Butler and her mother from her grandparents.

Catherine Harris, of S4C (Services for Children), told the inquest into Ellie’s death at South London Coroner’s Court that no formal risk or parental assessment had been made.

She also described the timetable to transfer Ellie to her parents as “rushed”, as Ellie’s grandfather Neal Gray and her mother Jennie Gray could not see eye to eye, which made a longer and more gentle transition more difficult.

Inquest counsel Adam Wiseman QC asked Ms Harris if she had “concerns” before November 2012, when Ellie was returned to her parents, about Butler’s “volatility and the risk that might cause to Ellie”.

Ben Butler (Metropolitan Police/PA)
Ben Butler (Metropolitan Police/PA)

“In my engagement with Mr Butler, he would get quite heated and express himself a bit forcefully.

“He would calm down when you asked him to do so.”

She said she only saw him behave like that with adults, adding: “It was part of his presentation to get quite heated.

“I never felt threatened by Mr Butler. I’m aware others did.”

Ellie was returned to the care of her birth parents in November 2012 after a ruling by Mrs Justice Hogg in the Family Division of the High Court.

She had been placed in the care of her grandparents as a baby after Butler was accused of shaking her.

Butler is currently serving life with a minimum term of 23 years for Ellie’s murder and has been listening to the hearing via video link from prison.

Ellie’s mother was convicted of child cruelty and perverting the course of justice and sentenced to 42 months’ imprisonment.

Ben Butler and Jennie Gray (Metropolitan Police/PA)
Ben Butler and Jennie Gray (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Asked by Mr Wiseman if anybody was “positively” saying to go down this route, Ms Harris replied “the guardian” had backed the approach.

Mr Wiseman also asked if a parenting assessment was carried out at the time that the proposition was made for Ellie to return to her parents.

Ms Harris said “there were observations made about capacity but there was no formal parenting assessment”.

She said that lots of people had been spoken to about moving Ellie.

Ms Harris said the transition timetable might not have been “that rushed” if “ideally” the adults involved could have been able to work together.

She said this would have meant Ellie would have been prepared, but added “we do not work in ideals in many situations”.

The inquest is 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.

The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday at 10am.

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