A mother and her partner have been found guilty over the death of a 16-month-old girl who was repeatedly assaulted in their care.
Star Hobson died in September last year from “utterly catastrophic” injuries, which she received at her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire.
Prosecutors said she was “repeatedly physically assaulted over the weeks and months before her death”.
Star’s mother Frankie Smith, 20, denied murder, alongside her partner, Savannah Brockhill, 28.
Brockhill has been found guilty of Star’s murder. Smith has been found guilty of causing or allowing the death of a child.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “What happened to Star Hobson is shocking and heartbreaking. We must protect children from these barbaric crimes and ensure lessons are learned.”
Warning: This story contains distressing details about the treatment and subsequent death of a child.
Star’s injuries were consistent with her being punched, stamped on, or kicked in the stomach.
She also had fractures to the shin and the skull that predated the death, and her body was covered with widespread, non-accidental bruising consistent with her being prodded, pinched or punched.
No medical help was sought until Star suffered her final, fatal injuries.
Smith and Brockhill had been in what was described as a “toxic” relationship in the 11 months leading to Star’s death.
While Smith admitted in court that she had been cruel to her daughter, her lawyers painted a picture of someone with very low intelligence in a controlling relationship – and that it was Brockhill who had delivered the fatal blows.
Tests done on Smith found she had an IQ of 70 – in the bottom two percent of the population – and was “abnormally compliant” and “prone to going along with an authority figure telling her what to do”.
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.
Repeatedly beaten in the months before her death
A post-mortem found lacerations on Star’s internal organs and bruising over her lungs and abdomen.
It revealed an abnormality in her shin bone that indicated she had fractured her right leg two to four weeks earlier, but that bone had been refractured in the week leading up to her death.
Jurors heard the two fractures were “caused by forceful twisting”.
It also found a skull fracture that was five to 10 days old.
On 13 September – days before Star’s death – CCTV footage from a recycling plant in Doncaster where Brockhill worked as a security guard appeared to show her striking Star 21 times in a car over a period of nearly three hours.
The footage appeared to show Brockhill punching and slapping Star with what Prosecutor Alistair MacDonald QC described as “considerable force” and, at one point, the youngster fell out of the vehicle. She also grabbed Star by the throat.
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.
Smith and Brockhill were the only adults in the flat when the toddler was either “punched, kicked or stamped on”, according to a pathologist.
Five referrals to social services in eight months
The court heard that numerous friends and family members called social services to express concerns about Star, with the first referral made in January 2020.
Police and social services visited, but no concerns were raised, and the case was dropped.
Anita, Star’s great-grandmother, made a second referral in May – but the case was closed after the women said the complaint was “malicious”.
The following month, Star’s father raised concerns over bruising on her face. Smith blamed this on an accident involving a coffee table.
On 23 June and 2 September, a fourth and fifth referral were made.
Videos taken on Brockhill’s phone around this time show a number of clips where Star appears exhausted and treated without love – including one where she falls off her chair and a laugh is heard.
When questioned about this in court, Smith said: “At the time, I thought it was funny. I’d seen videos on Facebook, I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong.”
Some of the reports to social services were made after images of Star were posted on Facebook.
A joint statement from safeguarding agencies in Bradford said support and assistance was offered to Star’s family at the time but they “deeply regret” missing warning signs in Star’s case.
It 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.”
Delay calling for help
Star died on 22 September.
The court heard how, on that afternoon, Brockhill told Star off for ripping up a concert ticket.
Smith claimed she had gone to the toilet then heard a “bang” and when she came back she says Brockhill was “breathing into her [Star’s] face”.
She added: “She looked like she couldn’t breathe properly… I said to her, we needed to get some help and Savannah said no she’ll be fine, she’s just winded.”
The jury were played a 999 call that said Brockhill had called her into the room.
There was an 11-minute delay from the incident happening and the pair calling the emergency services, during which time they searched online for “how to bring a baby out of shock”. When paramedics arrived, it was too late.
‘Pure evil killer wrecked our family’
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.”
He added: “We were just a quiet, lovely family and she ascended from the bowels of hell and just completely devastated and wrecked our family.”
He said Smith was “coerced, bullied and abused” by Brockhill.
“We saw Frankie covered in bruises long before things started happening with Star,” he said.
“We knew something was not right.”
Mr Fawcett said: “It was a classic case of brainwashing.”
He said of the response of social services: “It’s what they didn’t do. It’s disgusting because there were five referrals. Not one of them did anything.”
Asked whether social services had missed the “blindingly obvious”, Mr Fawcett said: “Yes.”
‘Instead of love, a defenceless little girl was subjected to cruelty’
Anita Banerjee, from the CPS, said Smith and Brockhill 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,” she 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.”
‘Justice for Star’
Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Swift, of West Yorkshire Police, who led the investigation, said it was “one of the most distressing and heart-breaking cases our team has seen”.
“Star was a young baby who had her whole life ahead of her and she tragically died at the hands of those who were meant to protect and care for her,” he said.
“Star, who was just 16-months-old, suffered catastrophic injuries and tragically she was not able to survive despite medical intervention at hospital.”
He added: “I welcome the verdicts from the jury for both Smith and Brockhill, their actions were absolutely barbaric against a defenceless young baby, whose life was cruelly cut short.”
Star’s paternal grandparents, Bernard and Sharon Hobson, said: “Whilst the conviction brings us no pleasure, as it cannot bring Star back, seeing justice for Star will be our only comfort.”
Smith cried uncontrollably as the verdicts were delivered. She and Brockhill will be sentenced on Wednesday.