'Evil' father jailed for life for murdering his daughter months after custody battle


"Evil" Ben Butler 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 high-profile custody battle.

Jobless 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.

Ellie Butler with her father Ben
Ellie with her father Ben (Metropolitan Police/PA)

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 that 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."

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Jennie Gray and Ben Butler
Court artist sketch of Jennie and Ben (Elizabeth Cook/PA)

The trial heard that 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 then went out with Jack Russell puppy Minnie, waving casually to neighbours and commenting on the "awful" weather as he dumped incriminating evidence in communal bins.

Six-year-old daughter Ellie in 2013
Six-year-old daughter Ellie in 2013 (Metropolitan Police/PA)

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.

Ellie with her mother Jennie
(Family handout/PA)

In November 2012, he was "exonerated" by a family court judge who declared a "happy ending" as she handed Ellie and her sibling back.

Throughout the trial, the couple put on a united front and Gray denied they lived in a "house of horrors".

Butler accused authorities of bias against him because of the "miscarriage of justice" in 2007 and claimed he was not having a "fair trial".

He claimed Ellie cracked her skull by tripping on the stairs while playing with the puppy more than two weeks before her death.

Ben Butler
Ben was found guilty at the Old Bailey (Metropolitan Police/PA)

The injury could have become fatal if she had fallen in her bedroom while jumping up and down with Peppa Pig on the television, it was claimed.

But medical experts for the prosecution said she had at least one blunt force impact from being thrown against a wall or struck with a heavy blunt weapon.