Man killed daughter then conspired with mother to hide crime, court hears
A father with a hot temper and a short fuse killed his six-year-old daughter then concocted an "elaborate" plot with the child's mother in a bid to get away with murder, a jury has heard.
Jobless bully Ben Butler, 36, was left home alone to look after Ellie Butler and another child while his partner was at work in the City of London on October 28, 2013, the Old Bailey heard.
When Ellie suffered "catastrophic head injuries", Butler called his graphic designer partner Jennie Gray, who raced home, the court heard.
But rather than calling emergency services, Gray, 36, helped hide the truth of what her domineering partner had done in a "carefully coordinated and elaborate" cover-up, jurors heard.
The couple allegedly only called 999 an hour after Gray arrived home at Westover Close in Sutton, south west London - two hours after Ellie was fatally hurt.
Butler is on trial for murdering his daughter while both parents are accused of child cruelty.
In the weeks leading up to the killing, Ellie had suffered a broken shoulder, which would have been painful, but neither sought medical treatment for her, jurors were told.
Opening the trial, prosecutor Edward Brown QC said Ellie suffered "very significant fractures to her skull" as the result of "really significant force".
There were also underlying brain and eye injuries as well as bruises consistent with fingers gripping under the child's jaw.
Mr Brown said the injuries were inflicted "deliberately" in perhaps brief but "devastating moments".
He told jurors that they would hear "truly disturbing" evidence about what happened in the Butler household in the weeks and months leading up to the killing.
He said: "Ben Butler was an angry and violent man with a short fuse. The make-up of the man dominated his and his family's domestic life. The evidence will demonstrate him to be consistently teetering on the edge of a violent loss of temper.
"It was, say the Crown, Ben Butler's sudden loss of temper on the 28th of October that caused him to inflict such devastating injuries on his daughter."
The defendants "screamed for help" when they called 999 at 2.46pm.
Gray performed CPR and Butler said his daughter had "fallen", the court heard. Mr Brown said that on the face of it, it was a "heart-rending call".
Paramedics arrived to find Ellie in her bedroom, lying on her back on the floor next to an overturned stool by her wardrobe where the parents said they found her.
Mr Brown said the "clear and intended implication" of what they each said was that Ellie had been the victim of a "tragic accident", discovered moments before they rang 999.
But the prosecutor said: "The terrible truth is that the scene was staged by the defendants.
"What they said in those apparently frantic moments and which they continued to claim was also staged.
"This was a planned, carefully coordinated and elaborate cover-up, designed wholly to mislead and divert attention in particular away from Ben Butler."
In the two hours after the killing, Butler put on an act of normality as he tried to get rid of evidence that would show him as "violent, abusive and with a short fuse", the court heard.
Clothes were put in the wash, Butler dumped documents in a communal bin and the couple sent texts in an attempt to appear normal while all the time Ellie lay dead, the court heard.
Mr Brown said: "The dreadful reality is that both defendants put themselves before the well-being or dignity of that little girl with Jennie Gray seeking to protect the man, who you will hear had significant control over her, emotionally and often physically.
"In respect of Butler, this is a story of a cynical and considered deception directed by a man acting to save himself.
"They are not the actions of an innocent man wracked by grief at the unexpected and inexplicable death of his young daughter."
Gray's actions flowed from the "abusive and violent" relationship with Butler and her "irrational devotion" to him, always putting him first, jurors were told.
When he was arrested, Butler made no comment while Gray stuck to her "lying" account that they had found Ellie on the bedroom floor, having been alerted by another child in the house at the time, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
She told police the reason she had come home early had nothing to do with Ellie, who she thought was upstairs playing, the court heard.
The couple deny the charges.