We lost our kids for 5 years after wrongful ‘shaken baby’ conviction
Dread for dad jailed after saving daughter's life
Reunited ... Ben and Jennie with their second child, Izzy
By ANTONELLA LAZZERI
Published: 17th October 2012
FIVE years ago doting dad Ben Butler saved his baby daughter’s life when she stopped breathing – and soon found himself in JAIL.
After clearing tiny Ellie’s airway, Ben rushed her to hospital, where doctors found head injuries similar to those caused when a baby is shaken.
To his horror, he was accused of grievous bodily harm and cruelty — crimes for which he was eventually convicted and sent to prison.
He had to stay on a wing full of PAEDOPHILES — and share his cell with a convicted child abuser.
Kept from jury ... Ellie's cyst, circled
Meanwhile, beautiful Ellie and her sister Izzy were put in foster care.
And it was all a terrible mistake.
Ben’s conviction was quashed in 2010 after new medical evidence showed six-week-old Ellie’s injuries were caused by a traumatic birth.
An appeal judge described the case as a “gross miscarriage of justice”.
But Ben, 33, and girlfriend Jennie Gray, 32, had to battle for two more years in the Family Court to get their girls back home.
They finally won that ruling just last week.
Removals man Ben said yesterday: “We should be over the moon. But my fear is we will never, ever be able to be a real family again.
“Ellie has been away from us for over five years. And Izzy came home last week and for the first few days was confused and upset.
“It tore me apart to see her sitting there crying for her foster parents.
“My fear is that although I’ve been cleared my family has been destroyed forever.”
The nightmare began in February 2007 when Ben, who was then separated from Jennie, took charge of baby Ellie for a night.
Graphic designer Jennie had no qualms about leaving the newborn.
She recalled: “If anything, he was an over-protective dad.
“He would text me things like, ‘I think I’ve given her too much milk!’”
Ben said: “From the moment I saw her I fell in love. I just adored her and wanted to be a hands-on dad. I saw her as much as I could, even having her overnight if I could.”
That night in February, Jennie dropped Ellie off as usual.
Ben said: “I tried to give her her feed but she didn’t want it.
“So I placed her in her car seat on the floor right by me. She seemed OK so I started to play a computer game on the telly.
“Then I suddenly saw her little arms were flopped down by her sides.
“When I went to her she had gone all limp, really white and was making a funny noise as if she was struggling to breathe.
“I started screaming at my flatmate to call 999. He did and on the emergency call tape you can hear me in a blind panic, giving her mouth-to-mouth and everything.
“Then at one stage I pushed my finger down her throat and she suddenly gasped and started breathing again.
“That gasp — it’s so loud you can even hear it on the 999 tape.”
It later turned out that Ellie had a cyst in her throat, that quick-thinking Ben had pushed out of the way.
The cyst is clearly visible on a scan taken in hospital — but it was NEVER shown to the original jury.
Ben, of Sutton, Surrey, said: “If they had seen it I believe they would never have found me guilty.
“Instead of trying to kill her, I saved her life.”
Police and social workers were called in despite doctors at first telling the parents that they believed — correctly — that the brain bleeding and swelling they picked up had been caused at birth.
'Gross miscarriage of justice' ... Ben has finally got his kids back, two years after his acquittal
Furious Jennie, who had noticed the baby sometimes had breathing problems but was told by the doctor and the midwife not to worry, said: “Ellie had no other injuries, no bruises, no fractures, nothing.
“That is almost unheard of in shaken babies.”
Ben added: “Two weeks later I was arrested and charged with GBH with intent.
“Jen wouldn’t go against me, so Ellie was taken into care.
“At one stage Jen was told by social workers, ‘If you say Mr Butler is guilty, you have more chance of getting your baby back.’”
Jennie added: “I know some people say I should have done that so I could have my child — but I couldn’t do that to Ben. It wasn’t right.
“I had to pack up all her little things and then hand them over to the foster carer.
“When I left her home I just collapsed screaming on her doorstep.
“I missed all her milestones — her first smile, her first steps.”
While awaiting trial the Family Court ruled Ben could see Ellie twice a year for four hours.
Jennie was allowed contact with her baby six times a year for two hours at a time — but felt she could not keep protesting.
Weeping, the mum said: “I had to do everything social services said because I was so scared of Ellie being adopted and then I would have lost her forever.”
Finally in March 2009 Ben faced trial at Croydon Crown Court.
He said: “It all revolved around medical evidence. But unless you were a qualified medic I can’t see how you’d understand any of it.”
To his horror he was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment.
Ben said: “I had to serve my time on the nonces’ wing.
“It was hideous, being in with men that had done unspeakable things to children.
“I never spoke a word to any of them the whole time.
“I couldn’t even have a photo of Ellie in there in case any paedos got off on it.”
Finally after three-and-a-half months he was freed, pending appeal. He could not wait to see his little girl again. She was now growing up with Jennie’s parents.
He said: “I was allowed to go and see Ellie but she didn’t even know who I was — it was heartbreaking.”
Brought back together by their battles, he and Jennie started seeing each other again and she became pregnant.
She revealed: “I was terrified that social services would take my baby away.
“So I registered under a false name 60 miles away from where I was living.
“I kept the pregnancy a secret from everyone.
“I had Izzy, but when the baby was six months old someone tipped off social services.
“I was driving down the motorway and six police cars started chasing me.
“They pulled me over and arrested me on suspicion of child neglect.
“They wouldn’t even let me say goodbye to Izzy.”
Recovered ... Ellie today as a healthy five-year-old
So Izzy too went into care — to strangers, this time. And she stayed there despite Ben’s conviction being overturned in 2010.
By this time Ben was an expert on shaken babies.
He said: “I had spent years researching shaken baby syndrome on the internet.
“There wasn’t a case like ours ever. In all cases of shaken baby syndrome the baby had either died, or been brain damaged.
“Ellie was perfect. I also had medical experts who testified about her cyst and how I had probably saved her life.”
The family was finally reunited by High Court judge Mrs Justice Hogg, who ruled that the local authority — which had argued Izzy, now three, was still at risk — must hand the youngster back.
The judge concluded: “It is a joy for me to oversee the return of a child to her parents.”
But while Izzy is back, Ellie, now five, is so attached to her grandparents that Ben and Jennie fear bringing her back home full-time immediately.
Furious Ben said: “My life, Jennie’s life and the girls’ lives have been virtually destroyed.
“Whatever chance we had of being a family was taken away — I have never seen Izzy at Christmas, or on her birthday.”
Jennie admitted: “At times I felt I couldn’t go on. I just wanted to die but Ben kept me alive. He said we had to fight, fight, fight.
“But we really don’t know how the future will go — I fear Ellie has been away from us too long.”
‘Expert’ opinion in the dock
By JANE ATKINSON
Early conviction ... Louise Woodward
DOCTORS first identified “shaken baby syndrome” in the late Sixties.
The symptoms were laid down as brain swelling, bleeding between the skull and brain and bleeding in the retinas.
It was a diagnosis that explained the deaths of babies who had all these injuries but no external bruising or fractures.
Natural causes were not considered.
But new evidence suggests bleeding in the brain can happen WITHOUT trauma.
The syndrome hit the headlines in 1997 when 19-year-old British au pair Louise Woodward was convicted of involuntary manslaughter by a court in Massachusetts.
The victim was eight-month-old Matthew Eappen, who died from injuries an expert said was characteristic of the syndrome.
Soon others were also being accused.
In 1999 Michael Faulder from Gateshead was jailed for two-and-a-half years after being wrongly accused of almost shaking his seven-week-old son to death. It took him six years to clear his name.
He had dropped the baby accidentally while placing him in a buggy.
In 2000 Lorraine Harris of Derbyshire was convicted of manslaughter and given a three-year sentence over the death of her 16-week-old son Patrick.
Her conviction was quashed in 2005 by the Court of Appeal when her lawyers argued that medical opinion on shaken baby syndrome had changed since her conviction.