Star Hobson: Woman found guilty of murdering partner’s 16-month-old girl

Mother Frankie Smith was cleared of murder but convicted of causing or allowing toddler’s death

Celine Wadhera
Tuesday 14 December 2021 19:46 GMT
999 call from Savannah Brockhill found guilty of murdering 16-month-old Star Hobson

A woman has been found guilty of murdering her partner’s 16-month-old daughter, Star Hobson, after the toddler endured months of assaults and psychological harm.

Savannah Brockhill was found guilty by a jury at Bradford Crown Court of killing Star after she suffered “utterly catastrophic” injuries in her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire.

Brockhill was the partner of Star‘s mother, Frankie Smith, who was cleared of murder on Tuesday but convicted of causing or allowing the toddler’s death.

The toddler suffered a cardiac arrest and died on 22 September 2020 in a West Yorkshire hospital as a result of “unsurvivable” injuries.

The child’s mother, Smith, 20, was also present in the flat at the time deadly injuries were inflicted.

Both Brockhill, 28, and Smith, 20, had denied murdering the child, or allowing her death. Both are set to be sentenced on Wednesday.

Frankie Smith, 20 (L) and Savannah Brockhill, 28 (R)
Frankie Smith, 20 (L) and Savannah Brockhill, 28 (R) (West Yorkshire Police/PA)

The verdicts come 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. Social services had been alerted to Star’s welfare at least five times, the jury were told.

Over the seven-week trial, the jury heard how Star suffered weeks of physical and psychological abuse which ultimately ended in her death. The court heard that the injuries that caused the toddler’s death involved extensive blows to her abdominal cavity “in the form of punching, stamping or kicking”.

Prosecutor Alastair MacDonald QC told the jury: “The effect of such injuries was immediate and heavy bleeding into the abdominal cavity, which caused a catastrophic drop in blood pressure and unconsciousness and death within seconds to minutes.

“The assault or assaults that killed Star clearly involved the use of severe force and were obviously intentional. This little girl suffered no accidental death.”

Mr MacDonald told the court how emergency services had been called at 3.43pm, 15 minutes after Smith and Brockhill had searched online for “shock in babies”.

The jury heard how Star was already in cardiac arrest, lying lifeless and pale on the floor when medics arrived at 3.49pm. CPR was then attempted before the toddler was rushed to hospital where she was pronounced dead at 4.59pm.

During the trial, the jury was shown CCTV footage which captured some of the abuse that the toddler was subjected to. One clip showed Brockhill delivering 21 blows to the young girl over a three-hour period in a car near a recycling plant in Doncaster where Brockhill worked as a security guard. Mr MacDonald said that Brockhill had used “considerable force” to strike the child, as at one point, Star is seen to fall out of the vehicle.

The court also heard how social services had been alerted to the child’s welfare at least five times, including by two of Star’s great-grandparents and by her father. On many occasions, friends and family documented Star’s bruises and injuries in photos and videos recorded on mobile phones.

Mr MacDonald also told the court that Star had sustained two fractures to her right leg, “caused by forceful twisting” that had been refractured as they healed. He described a fracture to the back of the toddler’s skull, which he said was “considered to be non-accidental in origin”.

On 15 September 2020, social services closed the case after concluding the referrals were malicious, as Brockhill and Smith alleged family and friends disapproved of their same-sex relationship.

A joint statement, issued by the safeguarding agencies in Bradford said that they “deeply regret” missing warning signs in Star’s case.

The statement given by Marium Haque, interim director of children’s services at Bradford Council, Helen Hirst, chief officer of Bradford District and Craven Clinical Commissioning Group, and Sarah Jones, District Commander Chief Superintendent of West Yorkshire Police, said: “We want to say first and foremost that we’re sorry for the death of Star. This was a child’s life cut cruelly short.

“We are very aware as partners that there is much that we need to learn from this case. We have already put in place actions that will improve our practice so that we learn those lessons. But we need to fully understand why opportunities to better protect Star were missed.”

The statement added that a Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review will be published in January 2022, which will provide clear recommendations on how to better protect children.

Following the release of the verdict Anita Banerjee, of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said that both Brockhill and Smith were responsible for inflicting catastrophic injuries on a helpless young child.

“Throughout her short life Star was subjected to endless physical assaults and psychological harm,” Ms Banerjee said.

“Instead of love and protection, she experienced a world of humiliation, cruelty and pain at the hands of those who should have protected her most.

“It is impossible to imagine how any parent or carer could inflict this level of pain and suffering on an entirely defenceless little girl. Our thoughts remain with Star‘s family, as they have been throughout.”

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