Inquest will not examine court decision to send Ellie back to killer father


The inquest into the death of Ellie Butler will not consider the "merits or wisdom" of a family court ruling which returned the schoolgirl to the hands of her abusive father.

The six-year-old was placed in the care of her grandparents as a baby after dad Ben Butler 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 by her father at their family home in Sutton, south London, in October 2013.

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.

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

Counsel to the inquest Adam Wiseman, QC, said "no one is on trial", as he opened proceedings four and a half years after Ellie's death.

He said: "This inquest will not consider the merits or the wisdom of the family court judgment.

"Mrs Justice Hogg is not on trial and nor is her judgement.

"The coroner's court is not the appropriate forum to review or question any decision of the High Court, nor would it ever be appropriate for the coroner court as a inferior court of record to review the decision of the high court."

The inquest's scope will cover the period from July 6 2012 - the date of Mrs Justice Hogg's decision - to Ellie's death on October 28 2013.

Gray and Butler will appear by video link throughout proceedings at South London Coroner's Court in Croydon.

As the link went live connecting the pair from their respective prisons to the court, Butler was heard to say: "Your eyes look different."

Butler and Gray do not have representation after being refused legal aid.

The Old Bailey trial heard that in October 2013 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.

The couple angrily protested their innocence when jurors returned guilty verdicts.

Gray later applied to the Court of Appeal for permission to bring challenges in relation to both child cruelty and perverting the course of justice, but the application failed.

Retired high court judge Dame Linda Dobbs is sitting as coroner for the inquest, which is expected to last two weeks.

It will examine whether there were failures on the part of the authorities with regard to Ellie's murder, including the sharing of information, cooperation and communication between organisations.

Mr Wiseman said: "There is a requirement to conduct a full and fearless investigation and that is precisely what is about to take place."

Proceedings will resume on Tuesday at 10.30am.