The woman who killed 16-month-old Star Hobson is “pure evil” and “ascended from the bowels of hell”, the toddler’s great-grandfather said after she was convicted of murder.
There are also concerns that social services missed chances to potentially stop the horrific crime.
Agencies which had contact with murdered toddler Star Hobson during her short life have said: “We need to fully understand why opportunities to better protect Star were missed.”
Bradford’s council leader said on Tuesday that Star was “let down” as the safeguarding partnership of police, primary health providers and social services said it “deeply regrets” that “not all the warning signs” were spotted.
The trial of Savannah Brockhill and Frankie Smith heard how social services were contacted on five separate occasions by concerned relatives and friends, and police also visited the family.
A review commissioned by the Bradford Partnership into agencies’ contacts with Star is due to be published in January.
The Department for Education said the review will inform the ongoing national investigation into the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and stressed that it would “not hesitate” to remove children’s services control from Bradford Council “if necessary”.
Underpaid social workers
However writing in Mirror child protection worker Vince Peart said: “Burnt-out and underpaid social workers can’t be blamed for every Arthur and Star Hobson.”
Peart goes on: “There is no shying away from the fact that these children, like Arthur and Star, had social work involvement in their lives and that there were indeed missed opportunities for intervention. It is far too simplistic an answer to simply attribute these failings to individual social workers or even the entire system though; social workers did not murder these children, and the blame cannot be laid solely at the feet of professionals.”
So what can be done to to try and ensure that these truly awful incidents don’t happen again?
He tells the paper: “We need lower caseloads, better resources, investment in early intervention services, and less bureaucracy. We also need public and political support to move the narrative away from social workers ‘stealing’ children and ‘failing’, to social workers being registered and respected professionals holding the same societal status as teachers, nurses, police officers and firefighters.”
Savannah Brockhill was found guilty of murdering Star by a jury who heard that the youngster endured months of assaults and psychological harm before suffering “utterly catastrophic” injuries in her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire.
Brockhill, 28, was the partner of Star’s mother, Frankie Smith, 20, who cried as she was cleared of murder at Bradford Crown Court on Tuesday but was convicted of causing or allowing the toddler’s death.
Speaking outside court, Star’s great-grandfather David Fawcett said: “I’m just pleased we got a murder conviction for Savannah Brockhill.
“To me she was just pure evil. I just can’t believe she could do something like that to a baby girl.
He said: “We were just a quiet, lovely family and she ascended from the bowels of hell and just completely devastated and wrecked our family.”
Mr Fawcett’s partner, Anita Smith, 70, was one of five people who reported concerns about Star to social services in the months leading up to her death on September 22 2020.
Asked about the response of social services, postman Mr Fawcett, 61, said: “It’s disgusting because there were five referrals. Not one of them did anything.”
He said: “It’s just beyond belief, really.”
Asked whether social services had missed the “blindingly obvious”, Mr Fawcett, who is also Smith’s grandfather, said: “Yes.”
Leader of Bradford Council Susan Hinchcliffe said a review was under way into agencies’ contact with the family but said: “Star was let down and we all want to know if anything could have been done differently.”
The verdicts came less than a fortnight after the stepmother of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, Emma Tustin, was found guilty of his murder in a case that caused widespread shock and revulsion.
The Department for Education said the death of Star was “deeply disturbing” and said it would “not hesitate” to remove children’s services control from Bradford Council “if necessary”.
A spokesperson said the review into Star’s death will feed into the national review of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’ death commissioned by the Secretary of State Nadhim Zahawi last week.
Smith cried uncontrollably as the verdicts were delivered as the pair stood in the glass-fronted dock.
Star was taken to hospital from the flat where she lived with Smith in Wesley Place, Keighley, 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 and made a series of complaints to social services.
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.
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”.
Prosecutor Alistair MacDonald QC said there had been two fractures to Star’s right leg “caused by forceful twisting” which had been refractured as they healed.
He also described a fracture to the back of the skull and bruising to Star, “much of which is considered to be non-accidental in origin”.
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.
Mr MacDonald said 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. She also grabbed Star by the throat.
Another video which was shown to the jury, described by the prosecutor as “disturbing and bizarre”, showed Star falling off a plastic chair and hitting the floor.
The mobile phone footage had been slowed down with music added, plus a caption which said “in this moment she realises she has messed up”.
Another clip, filmed on both defendants’ phones, showed Star being so exhausted that she fell forward and slept in a bowl of food.
Mr MacDonald told the jury 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 youngster in the weeks and months before she died as well as physical assaults.
A number of relatives and friends of Smith told the jury of concerns they had over bruises they saw on Star which, in some instances, they filmed.
Brockhill, 28, of Hawthorn Close, Keighley, and Smith, 20, of Wesley Place, Halifax Road, Keighley, both denied murder and also causing or allowing Star’s death.
They will be sentenced on Wednesday.