Calls for social services overhaul after death of Star Hobson

Calls for social services overhaul after yet ANOTHER life lost: Campaigners demand change after Boris Johnson says little Star Hobson’s murder is ‘shocking and heartbreaking’ and says: ‘We must protect children from these barbaric crimes’

  • Campaigners led calls for overhaul of UK’s social services system following killing of little Star Hobson
  • The 16-month-old was murdered by her mother Frankie Smith’s girlfriend Savannah Brockhill at home 
  • Social services missed five opportunities to stop Star’s killers before her death on September 22, 2020
  • Ex-Children’s Commissioner said lockdown ‘has brought its own opportunities for those who abuse children’
  • Verdicts have fuelled calls for sweeping reform amid outcry over the case of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes

Campaigners today led calls for a dramatic overhaul of the UK’s social services system following the horrific killing of little Star Hobson.

The 16-month-old was murdered by her mother Frankie Smith’s girlfriend Savannah Brockhill after suffering months of abuse in her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire during the Covid lockdown last year.

Star’s great-grandfather branded Brockhill, 28, ‘pure evil’ and ‘ascended from the bowels of hell’, while Smith, 20, cried as she was convicted of causing or allowing the toddler’s death at Bradford Crown Court today.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the case ‘shocking and heartbreaking’, adding on Twitter: ‘We must protect children from these barbaric crimes and ensure lessons are learned.’ And Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi vowed: ‘We will never hesitate to take robust steps to prevent tragic cases like this happening’.

Social services missed five opportunities to stop Star’s killers, including her great-grandfather’s partner, in the months before her death on September 22, 2020.

Today’s verdicts have fuelled mounting calls for sweeping reform, amid widespread outcry over the case of murdered six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes by his cruel stepmother earlier this month.

Former Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield, the chairwoman of the Commission on Young Lives, warned that the Covid lockdown ‘has brought its own opportunities for those who harm, groom and abuse children’.

She told MailOnline: ‘It is time we made improving children’s social care and protection as big a priority as reforming adult social care. I hope the Government will act swiftly on the proposals that come out of the forthcoming independent review into children’s social care.

‘The horrific murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson are a stark and tragic reminder that our children’s social services system is facing a perfect storm after years of under investment and the diminishing of early intervention and family support.’

The current Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, told MailOnline: ‘It is clear that there are serious lessons that need to be learnt. Applying these lessons across the country is the biggest challenge facing us. It is incumbent on all of us working with children to step up to that challenge.’

She added: ‘The beautiful, smiling picture of Star Hobson reminds us how precious the life of each child is. What she endured is unspeakable but it must not be unthinkable. We need to ask the hard questions about how this happened, and the even harder questions about how this is the second case in recent weeks.’

The NSPCC said ‘we must do all we can to prevent cruelty and abuse to children’. A spokesman added: ‘Star Hobson’s young life was cut brutally short and it is appalling that she was harmed by the very people who should have been keeping her safe.

The Facebook post from Star’s great-grandfather demanded to know why she had suddenly appeared with bruises 

Campaigners today led calls for a dramatic overhaul of the UK’s social services system following the horrific killing of little Star Hobson

Former Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield, the chairwoman of the Commission on Young Lives, warned that the Covid lockdown ‘has brought its own opportunities for those who harm, groom and abuse children’


Partners in death: Savannah Brockhill, 28 and Frankie Smith, 20, have both been convicted over killing Star Hobson

Star Hobson was only 16-months-old when she was killed at her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire. Here are some of the key events in her short life:

2019

May 21 – Star Hobson is born

November – Savannah Brockhill and Frankie Smith begin a relationship.

2020

January 23 – Smith’s friend Holly Jones makes the first contact with social services over concerns about domestic violence and how much time she is left looking after Star. Police and social workers visit Star but no concerns are raised.

Early February – Star goes to live with her great-grandparents, David Fawcett and Anita Smith at their home in Baildon, Bradford, after Smith says she has split up with Brockhill.

April 26 – Star is removed from Anita Smith’s house by her mother and taken to live with Smith and Brockhill in Keighley.

May 4 – Anita Smith contacts social services after she is told about Brockhill ‘slam-choking’ Star.

June – David Fawcett posts a picture of Star with bruises on Facebook alongside a happier shot and with the caption ‘From this to this in five weeks, what’s going on Frankie?’

June 21 – Star’s father, Jordan Hobson, contacts social services. Police take Star for a hospital examination. Smith says her daughter had hit her face on a coffee table.

June 23 – Another friend of the Smith family contacts social services with concerns.

August 14 – David Fawcett and Anita Smith see Frankie and Star for the last time.

August 28 – David Fawcett is sent a video of Star with bruises and confronts Brockhill.

September 2 – Another of Star’s great-grandfathers, Frank Smith, contacts social services after seeing video of bruises on the youngster’s face. Social workers make an unannounced visit.

September 15 – Social services closes the case after concluding the referral to be malicious.

September 22 – Star is seriously injured at the flat in Wesley Place, Keighley, and dies later in hospital.

2021

December 14 – Following a trial at Bradford Crown Court Brockhill is convicted of Star’s murder while Smith is convicted of causing or allowing the toddler’s death.

‘Star was subjected to horrific cruelty and violence over several months that no child should ever have to experience.’

Leader of Bradford Council Susan Hinchcliffe said a review was under way into agencies’s contact with the family but said: ‘Star was let down and we all want to know if anything could have been done differently.’

Tory MP Robbie Moore called on Ms Hinchliffe and the council’s chief executive Kersten England to resign, saying: ‘Bradford Council bosses should hang their heads in shame.’

The Department for Education said Star’s death was ‘deeply disturbing’ and said it would ‘not hesitate’ to remove children’s services control from Bradford Council ‘if necessary’. A spokesman said the review into Star’s death will feed into the national review of Arthur’s death commissioned by Mr Zahawi last week.

Asked about the response of social services outside court, Star’s great-grandfather David Fawcett said: ‘It’s disgusting because there were five referrals. Not one of them did anything. 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.’

He added: ‘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. We were just a quiet, lovely family and she ascended from the bowels of hell and just completely devastated and wrecked our family.’

Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Swift, of West Yorkshire Police, was asked outside Bradford Crown Court whether enough was done to protect Star.

He said: ‘There is a review that’s ongoing, a local children’s safeguarding practice review.

‘At the early stage of our investigation I linked in with the chair of that review, Mr Mellor, to ensure that review could be undertaken in a timely manner and to make sure that information could be shared, lessons learned and, more importantly, the lessons implemented.’

Mr Swift said he could not comment further on the review, which is a ‘work in progress’.

He said: ‘Whatever the outcomes of that review, if those two individuals that have been convicted today of those offences hadn’t done what they had done, then Star Hobson would still be alive.’

Mr Swift confirmed that West Yorkshire Police had ‘some contact with the family’ and he has referred that contact to the force’s professional standards department who, in turn, notified the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

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’. 

Police have released a harrowing picture of one of the bruises on Star’s face that sparked calls to social services from family

Star Hobson (pictured with Brockhill) suffered a cardiac arrest and died in hospital from appalling injuries inflicted on her

The jury heard the injuries which caused the toddler’s death involved extensive damage to her abdominal cavity. Pictured: Smith and Brockhill 

Footage was shown of Brockhill taking Star to a recycling plant where she worked and repeatedly hit her inside the car

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.

Social services cleared baby killers FIVE TIMES: Star Hobson’s desperate great-grandparents begged ‘we don’t want another Baby P on our hands’ but their concerns were deemed ‘malicious’ just ONE week before 16-month-old was murdered 

Social workers investigating the couple who killed innocent Star Hobson cleared them five times – even declaring a referral to them was ‘malicious’ the week before she was murdered.

The authorities fell for mother Frankie Smith, 20, and her 28-year-old girlfriend Savannah Brockhill’s lies, despite a series of concerns raised by relatives.

During an unannounced social worker visit to their Keighley home on September 15 last year Star was so dazed by the abuse she had suffered she walked into a sofa.

She had bruises on her face and shins but the Bradford City Council worker believed Brockhill’s explanation she’d fallen down the stairs.

In fact she was being ‘choke slammed’, swung by her leg and hit in the face by the twisted couple.

They referred to her as a ‘brat’ and forced her to stand facing the wall for long periods of time during their reign of cruelty.

In total two friends and three relatives – including Star’s own father – had reported them to social services but they were still allowed to keep her.

As Brockhill was today convicted of murdering her and Smith for allowing her death, serious questions were being asked of the authorities.

Two month ago the head of the council’s Children Services department Mark Douglas resigned.

Ofsted rated the service as ‘inadequate’ in 2018 and warned ‘some children were at serious risk of harm’. In June this year it was hit with a ‘direction to improve’ over a ‘slow pace of change’.

Lies from Frankie Smith, 20, and Savannah Brockhill, 28, were believed by the authorities

Abused Star was so dazed she walked into a sofa in view of social worker during one visit

Bradford City Council head of Children Services Mark Douglas resigned in October this year

Social services first got involved in Star’s treatment in January 23, 2020, after a referral from Smith’s friend and sometimes babysitter Holly Jones.

She flagged up potential domestic violence issues and the fact Star was increasingly being left in her care.

Three days later police visited but there were no concerns raised. Social services tried to visit Smith on January 28 but she was not home.

Her family were spoken to and no problems were raised, so the case was closed on February 27.

Innocent Star Hobson was only 16 months old when she was killed in her Keighley home after five social services cases drop

Children’s boss quit before trial began 

The Children’s Services boss in charge of Star’s care quit his £121,000-a-year post just days before Smith and Brockhill went on trial.

Mark Douglas became Bradford Council’s third Director of Children’s Services to quit within a turbulent three year period.

The department was rocked by an Ofsted report in 2018 which branded it ‘inadequate’ and said some children under its care were ‘at risk of serious harm.’

Michael Jameson quit as director soon after the report was released and he was succeeded by Gladys Rhodes White, who left less than a year later.

 On his arrival in May 2019, Mr Douglas, formerly Director of Children’s Social Care at Doncaster Children’s Services Trust, vowed to ‘develop good and outstanding services for the city and district.’

Kersten England, Chief Executive of Bradford Council, said at the time: ‘Mark will be key to us achieving this so we put the voice and needs of our young people at the heart of all we do.’ 

The former social worker suddenly quit on October 15, just before the trial at Bradford Crown Court began

On May 5 social services were contacted by Star’s great-grandmother Anita Smith over concerns over how the baby was being treated.

They visited but there were no bruises to either the baby or her mother.

Social services spoke to Frankie Smith and Brockhill and the latter gave them permission to do police checks on her.

After making the referral, Ms Smith said she was called a ‘weirdo’ and a ‘freak’, and she and Mr Fawcett had their access to Star restricted from then on, seeing Star only a couple more times before her death that September.

Her partner David Fawcett said the tot seemed ‘depressed’ after returning to her mother.

He said she quickly developed bruises on her face and body, while appearing to have ‘lost that spark she had’ when staying with them. He told the court: ‘I’d never seen a depressed baby before in my life.’

Mr Fawcett said he had confronted Brockhill about Star’s bruises and was told ‘all kids get bruises’. 

When he questioned how she didn’t get any while living with him he said she hung up the phone so he posted comparison photos of Star with bruises and without on Facebook. Frankie Smith then blocked him after seeing them. 

Jordan Hobson, Star’s father, referred Smith and Brockhill to social services on June 21 after seeing pictures the couple had shared of his daughter’s bruised face.

Police again visited their home and saw the markings on the baby’s head.

Smith told them Star had hit her head on the handle of a coffee table.

A medical examination found two bruises on her cheek and four on the back of her leg.

Smith and Brockhill’s explanation that Star’s bruises came from her playing with a puppy were believed by social services

Smith and Brockhill’s explanation that they were from her playing with a puppy were believed.

Social services were again contacted on June 23 by Rachel Whiteley, a close friend of Smith’s mother Yvonne Spendley. She had been concerned how Smith had treated Star at a barbecue, picking her up roughly.

Ms Whiteley said at the time: ‘I thought it was disgusting, giving her barbecue food, the way she handled her.’

Social services closed the case in July, it is not clear what was done.

On September 2 Frank Smith – Star’s paternal great-grandfather – alerted social services to a video of Star with bruises on her face. When they visited her, her mother was said to have been in Scotland. The next day they went again unannounced and found her at home with Brockhill.

They noticed Star was so unsteady on her feet she walked into a sofa while they were there. There were also bruises on her cheek and right shin but were told by Brockhill she had fallen down the stairs.

The murderer told police later what the social worker had said, adding: ‘Social services came to see Star, she checked her body, her bedroom, chatted with us about Star, she said the report was malicious.’

On September 15 social services closed the case, indeed concluding the referral had been ‘malicious’. A week later Star was murdered and found with fractures to her shin, ribs and skull. She had also suffered lacerations to a vein carrying blood between her leg and organs which leaked into her abdominal cavity.

Prosecutor Alistair MacDonald QC said the injuries had been caused by a severe and forceful blow or blows, ‘either in the form of punching, stamping or kicking to the abdomen’.

Smith and Brockhill waited 15 minutes after the incident where Star was injured before calling 999. In that period they searched online for ‘How to bring a baby out of shock.’

The jury was shown video footage of Star being shouted at in her home which Mr MacDonald said showed ‘there was also a degree of cruelty and psychological harm’ inflicted on the youngster.

In one clip, an upset Star is seen being roughly handled by Frankie Smith and a sustained attempt made to make her stand in the corner.

Mr MacDonald said: ‘It is inconceivable that any carer would wait 15 minutes to call for professional help when their 16 month-old child was showing symptoms of a medical catastrophe.

‘Any innocent carer would have been on the phone within seconds, not 15 minutes.’

He said there had also 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 prosecutor said: ‘It is also the case that social services, who were aware of Star’s case, were kept away from Star, as were many of her family in the last period of her life.’ 

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