Murdered boys’ mother speaks out after Ellie Butler case

Wheatley, 31, beat his daughter to death less than three months after the family court in Luton, Bedfordshire granted him custody, despite concerns raised about his contact by the child’s foster carers.

Powered by article titled “Murdered boys’ mother speaks out after Ellie Butler case” was written by Sandra Laville, for The Guardian on Wednesday 22nd June 2016 12.40 UTC

A mother whose two sons were killed by their father after the family court granted him access to them is calling on the justice secretary, Michael Gove, to act urgently to prevent more children from being murdered by violent parents.

Claire Throssell spoke out after the conviction of Ben Butler on Tuesday for the murder of his six-year-old daughter, Ellie, 11 months after a family court judge granted him custody of her.

Throssell said no other child should suffer like her sons Jack, 12, and Paul, nine, and Ellie Butler, all murdered after judges in the family courts allowed their fathers contact despite evidence that the men were abusive and violent.

Butler’s violent past was known to the authorities before he was granted custody of Ellie. He had a string of convictions including for robbery and several assaults on a girlfriend.

Throssell said the courts were ignoring legal guidelines and instead putting deeply embedded cultural beliefs that a father should have contact with his children over the need to put children’s best interests first.

According to the Women’s Aid Child First campaign, in the decade to 2015, 19 children – including Throssell’s sons – were killed by fathers with histories of domestic abuse who had access to their children through informal or formal contact arrangements reached through the family courts.

“The Butler case is absolutely heartbreaking,” Throssell said. “I am speaking out for my children. Jack’s last words as he lay dying were: ‘My dad did this and he did it on purpose.’ That must never be allowed to happen again.

“No more children’s lives should be taken in anger and malice. That cannot be allowed to happen and there needs to be urgent action taken to make sure the courts follow the legal guidelines to put children’s safety first.”

Throssell’s sons were killed in October 2014 in a fire set by their father, Darren Sykes, at his home in Penistone, South Yorkshire. During divorce proceedings he had been granted access to his children for five hours a week, despite Throssell’s evidence that he had previously threatened to kill them and himself.

Her son Paul had described issues of abuse involving his father to a family adviser from the court service Cafcass, and Throssell had presented evidence of his controlling behaviour and violence.

Two days before he killed his children, Sykes barricaded the family adviser inside a room during an interview over his access, but he was still allowed to take the children to his home 48 hours later.

During that visit Sykes, 44, lured the boys up to the loft with the promise of chocolate bars and a newly purchased train set, then set a fire downstairs and closed the loft with him and his children inside.

Throssell said: “I warned the social worker and the Cafcass adviser never to see him on their own. He had been arrested several times for violence to a neighbour, he had been abusive to me, he had hit the children, I put all this in black and white in my court statement and I said that he had threatened to kill them before. Yet he was still given access.”

Throssell is at the forefront of the Child First campaign, which is calling for urgent action by Gove and the judiciary to force the family courts to abide by guidance that already exists to put the safety of children first.

The guidance, known as practice direction 2, states that where there is evidence of domestic abuse, whether violence or coercive control, the court must ensure that any child contact arrangement “protects the safety and wellbeing of the child and the parent with whom the child is living, and does not expose them to further risk of harm”.

Last month a serious case review of the murder of four-year-old Alexa-Marie Quinn by her father, Carl Wheatley, in 2013 found that she had been let down by the courts and social workers.

Wheatley, 31, beat his daughter to death less than three months after the family court in Luton, Bedfordshire granted him custody, despite concerns raised about his contact by the child’s foster carers.

Phil Picton, chairman of the safeguarding children board in Hertfordshire, concluded: “Alexa-Marie was a very vulnerable little girl who was placed into the care of a man who actively sought to win custody of her and then within weeks went on to murder her.

“During Alexa-Marie’s last days, Carl Wheatley deliberately misled professionals and resisted the efforts of those who were concerned for his daughter’s safety. He had many opportunities to seek medical attention for the injuries he had inflicted on her but made no effort to get the help that could have saved her life.”

Polly Neate, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, said the conviction of Butler, and the evidence of many other cases of child homicides by perpetrators of domestic violence, meant urgent action was needed.

“This terrible tragic case shows how the safety of children must be at the heart of all decisions made by the family courts,” said Neate. “This is routinely not happening. We need to see urgent changes made, as, demonstrated by our research, unsafe contact with violent parents puts children in grave danger – with fatal consequences.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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