True Crime

Ellie the angel – her dad got custody then killed her

Just heartbreaking

After fighting to get his daughter back, Ben Butler did something unimaginable. 

It was Christmas morning and six-year-old Ellie Butler was bursting with excitement.

Dressed in a white angel costume, she knelt beside the tree and opened her presents.

It was the first Christmas she’d ever spent with her parents, Jennie Gray and Ben Butler.

They’d come so very close to losing her…

When Ellie was seven weeks old, she was taken to the hospital with head injuries. Doctors were immediately suspicious of Ben, who’d been caring for Ellie alone that evening.

Ben Butler with Ellie Butler
Ben first hurt Ellie at seven weeks old

The police were called and he was charged with assault.

Ben maintained his innocence, stating Ellie had simply turned white and stopped breathing in her carry cot.

Jennie was adamant he would never lay a finger on their little girl.

But a jury was not so convinced. They believed Ben had shaken his daughter so hard it had caused a head injury.

He was found guilty of grievous bodily harm and child cruelty, and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Meanwhile, Ellie was placed with her grandparents – Jennie’s mum and dad, Neal and Linda. 

Ben appealed his conviction and after a three-year legal battle, it was quashed.

The Court of Appeal said the jury had not been offered the option of the possibility that Ellie’s injuries had another unknown cause.

‘If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone,’ Ben told a local newspaper after his release. ‘It ruined me. I still haven’t got over it.’

Next, he went to war with the authorities who had branded him and Jennie unfit to care for their daughter, fighting to regain custody of Ellie.

He won again.

The family was reunited in November 2012.

Now it was time to put the whole nightmare behind them and enjoy their first family Christmas.

Less than a year later, on October 28, 2013, Ben and Jennie made a frantic call to emergency services.

‘I just come upstairs and my little girl’s fallen down,’ Ben said.

Ellie Butler with grandparents Neal and Lind
Ellie with her grandparents Neal and Lind

‘She’s not breathing,’ screamed Jennie in the background.

Paramedics arrived at their house to find Ellie lying cold and lifeless on her bedroom floor. She was taken to hospital, where she was later pronounced dead.

Her parents told police that Ellie may have fallen while bouncing up and down while watching a Peppa Pig DVD. But her injuries were not consistent with such a fall.

Police began to investigate. Soon, Ben was charged with murder and Jennie with perverting the course of justice and child cruelty.

The trial began in May 2016. The court heard that on the day Ellie died, Jennie, a graphic designer, had gone to work, leaving Ben home alone with their daughter.

But after receiving a call from him around lunchtime, she grabbed her handbag, left the office without explanation, and took a taxi home.

The driver remembers Jennie telling him she needed to get home because her daughter was ill.

She arrived home at 1.50pm. Then almost an hour passed before they placed a call to emergency services to say their daughter had ‘fallen down’ and wasn’t breathing.

Jennie said they’d delayed calling an ambulance because they were scared Ben would be blamed due to his previous conviction.

Ellie and mum Jennie
Ellie and mum Jennie

He said the injuries were consistent with being thrown against a wall or the ground or struck with a heavy blunt weapon.

He also revealed Ellie had suffered a broken shoulder weeks before her murder, an injury that had been left untreated.

Details about the nature of Ben’s relationship with Jennie were also revealed to the jury. Text messages between the pair were read out in which he called her a ‘fat dog’, a ‘w—e’ and a ‘b—h’.

In one message he wrote, Woke up I’m in a rage already… My hands are shaking… One more mistake I’m going to lose it…

In another, he expressed extreme anger about Ellie wetting the bed.

Ben Butler was found guilty of Ellie’s murder. Sentencing him to life in prison, the judge Mr Justice Wilkie described Butler as ‘a self-absorbed, ill-tempered, violent and domineering man.’

Jennie Gray was found guilty of perverting the course of justice and child cruelty. She was sentenced to 42 months behind bars.

As the verdict was delivered, Butler erupted and had to be dragged from the dock as he yelled that he was ‘one hundred per cent innocent.’

Ellie’s grandfather Neal Gray, who described Ellie as ‘our shining light’, said the fatal decision to return her to Butler and Gray was ‘unfathomable’.

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