A "violent" father with a "short fuse" who is accused of killing his six-year-old daughter acted out an "elaborate" charade in a bid to cover up his child's death, a jury at the Old Bailey has heard. Ben Butler, 36, is on trial for murder and child cruelty.
In 2007 he was found guilty of inflicting serious head injuries on his daughter, Ellie Butler, who was subsequently put into foster care. His conviction was quashed in 2010 and Ellie was returned to Butler and his partner, Jennie Gray after they won a High Court ruling to get her back.
Ellie was returned to the family home in Sutton, south-west London in November 2012. In October 2013, Ellie was found dead in her bedroom with "catastrophic" head injuries as a result of "really significant force", the court heard. Jurors were also told that the child suffered underlying brain and eye injuries, as well as bruising under her jaw which was consistent with finger-gripping. Paramedics arrived to find Ellie lying on her back in her bedroom next to a stool which had been knocked over, where her parents said they found her, the court was told.
"Ben Butler was an angry and violent man with a short fuse," said Prosecutor Edward Brown QC. "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."
After allegedly causing Ellie's death on 28 October 2013, Butler rang Gray instead of emergency services and she rushed home. The pair then set a "carefully coordinated and elaborate" cover-up into motion to make it look like an accident, jurors were told. The couple only dialled for help an hour after Gray rushed home and two hours after Ellie was fatally injured as they feigned "desperate urgency".
During the time Ellie was hurt, the pair pretended to be normal. Butler took his dog for a walk and even commented on the weather to a neighbour. The court heard he tried to remove evidence which would show him as "violent, abusive and with a short fuse". Clothes put in the wash and Gray's torn-up diary was placed in a communal bin.
"The dreadful reality is that both defendants put themselves before the wellbeing 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," said Brown "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."
The court heard that Butler was frequently angry and resented his responsibility to look after Ellie. Gray was the sole breadwinner "desperate to please" her partner who she prioritised above everyone else, including Ellie, the jury heard. Butler and Gray's relationship was described as "dysfunctional and toxic" and "dominated by an angry, self-centred and short tempered man".
Jurors were also told that Butler expressed hatred for Ellie as well as contempt for Gray, who he had "significant" control over. Gray had conducted internet searches for "magic spells to make him love me again" and "urgent spell to make him be sorry for hurting me". Despite being called a "dog whore" and an "ugly bitch", Gray would do anything for Butler, the court heard.
Butler denies murder. Both Butler and Gray deny child cruelty.
The trial continues.