15 December 2021

Star Hobson social workers were duped, says babysitter as killer is sentenced

15 December 2021

The first person to raise concerns about murdered Star Hobson has said social workers were duped by the toddler’s mother and her girlfriend, who will be sentenced later.

Bouncer and security guard Savannah Brockhill, 28, was branded “pure evil” by Star’s family, who said she “ascended from the bowels of hell” after she was found guilty of murdering the 16-month-old.

A jury heard on Tuesday that Star endured months of assaults and psychological harm before suffering “utterly catastrophic” injuries in her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire.

Star’s mother and Brockhill’s former partner, Frankie Smith, 20, was cleared of murder at Bradford Crown Court, but was convicted of causing or allowing the toddler’s death.

Savannah Brockhill was branded ‘pure evil’ by Star Hobson’s family (West Yorkshire Police/PA) (PA Media)

The verdicts came in the wake of the widespread outcry over the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, and the case was described by Boris Johnson as “shocking and heartbreaking”.

The Prime Minister said: “We must protect children from these barbaric crimes and ensure lessons are learned.”

Star’s great-grandfather, David Fawcett, led the questions over why social services and police did not act despite five different family members and friends raising concerns with the authorities.

The first to contact officials, eight months before Star died in September 2020, was Smith’s friend, Hollie Jones, who was the regular babysitter for the toddler.

Ms Jones told the BBC that when social workers rang to say they were going, Smith spent an hour cleaning Star and covering up bruises.

She said: “It’s like ringing up a criminal an hour before and saying ‘I’m coming to get you’. It just doesn’t really make sense.”

She added: “I think more things need to be put in place … because parents that are abusing their children know how to cover it up.”

Ms Jones said the social workers said “they have no concern, that she’s safe with her mother … there’s nothing more that they can do and everything looks fine”.

The Bradford Partnership, which includes the agencies which had contact with Star during her short life, said on Tuesday: “We need to fully understand why opportunities to better protect Star were missed.”

The safeguarding partnership said a review into the case will be published next year, but that it “deeply regrets” that “not all the warning signs” were spotted.

And Bradford Council leader Susan Hinchliffe said Star was “let down”.

Keighley and Ilkley Tory MP Robbie Moore said Bradford Council leaders should “hang their heads in shame” and resign.

The Department for Education said Star’s death was “deeply disturbing” and that it would “not hesitate” to remove children’s services control from Bradford Council “if necessary”.

Smith cried uncontrollably when the verdicts were delivered as she and Brockhill stood in the glass-fronted dock.

Star was taken to hospital from the flat where she lived with Smith in Wesley Place, Keighley, on September 22 2020, but her injuries were “utterly catastrophic” and “unsurvivable”, prosecutors told the two-month trial.

Jurors heard that Smith’s family and friends had growing fears about bruising they saw on the little girl in the months before she died.

In each case, Brockhill and Smith managed to convince social workers that marks on Star were accidental or that the complaints were made maliciously by people who did not like their relationship.

Frankie Smith was convicted of causing or allowing the death of her 16-month-old daughter (West Yorkshire Police/PA) (PA Media)

Prosecutors described how the injuries that caused Star’s death involved extensive damage to her abdominal cavity “caused by a severe and forceful blow or blows, either in the form of punching, stamping or kicking to the abdomen”.

Jurors also heard there were other injuries on her body which meant that “in the course of her short life, Star had suffered a number of significant injuries at different times”.

The jury was shown a series of clips from a CCTV camera which prosecutors said showed Brockhill deliver a total of 21 blows to Star in a car over a period of nearly three hours, some as the toddler sat in a car seat.

The footage came from a camera at a recycling plant in Doncaster where Brockhill was working as a security guard, and was filmed about eight days before Star’s death.

The footage appeared to show Brockhill punching and slapping Star with what the prosecutor described as “considerable force”, and at one point the youngster fell out of the vehicle. Brockhill also grabbed Star by the throat.

The jury also saw another video, described by the prosecutor as “disturbing and bizarre”, showing Star falling off a plastic chair and hitting the floor.

Prosecutor Alistair MacDonald QC told the court the youngster was “clearly exhausted but treated completely without love”.

He said “there was also a degree of cruelty and psychological harm” inflicted on the toddler in the weeks and months before she died as well as physical assaults.

Brockhill, 28, of Hawthorn Close, Keighley, and Smith, 20, of Wesley Place, Halifax Road, Keighley, will be sentenced on Wednesday by the judge, Mrs Justice Lambert.

The maximum sentence for causing or allowing the death of a child is 14 years.

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