'Malicious' anti-gay complaints were made against Star Hobson's killer
Savannah Brockhill and Frankie Smith were given the benefit of the doubt time and again as Star Hobson suffered: Did social services fail to save the little girl because the killer said she was victim of anti-gay prejudice?
- Savannah Brockhill, 28, had claimed the social services complaints that were lodged against her were because of an ‘anti-gay prejudice’
- Friends and family made five complaints about Brockhill which were dismissed
- Brockhill and maternal mother Frankie Smith, 20, convicted over child’s death
- 16-month-old Star Hobson died at the couple’s Keighley, West Yorkshire home
- The toddler sustained ‘catastrophic injuries’ to her abdomen last year, jury heard
Star Hobson had cherubic blue eyes and a face to melt even the hardest of hearts.
Star Hobson: The five spurned warnings
MAY 2019: Star Hobson is born
NOVEMBER: Her mother, Frankie Smith, splits from Star’s father Jordan Hobson, a university student, and begins a relationship with Savannah Brockhill
JANUARY 2020: First social services referral from babysitter Hollie Jones. Police and social services visit the family. Case is closed a month later.
FEBRUARY: Star goes to live with her great-grandmother Anita Smith for ten weeks and her health improves.
APRIL: Smith takes Star with her and moves into a housing association flat in Keighley, West Yorkshire.
MAY: Days after Star leaves, Anita Smith makes the second referral to social services. Smith and Brockhill are visited by social workers, who accept claims that the report was ‘malicious’ due to the family’s dislike of the same-sex relationship.
JUNE: Smith’s elder sister sends photos of the injured infant to police. Around the same time, Star’s father makes a third referral to social services over a photo showing bruising. Police and social services take the child to hospital to be checked up and accept that her injuries are accidental. Toward the end of the month Rachel Whiteley, a family friend, makes the fourth social services referral over concerns for the health of Star.
SEPTEMBER: Frank Smith, Star’s great-grandfather, makes the fifth social services referral over a video showing bruising. Social workers visit Smith and Brockhill with the child. They accept the accidental explanation for bruising and close the file on September 15. Brockhill is caught on camera repeatedly hitting Star while inside a car at a recycling plant where she worked. Star is beaten to death on September 22, the day a social worker was due to meet Smith before the latter postponed the appointment.
You can still see her gazing at the world in wonder on Facebook.
In one picture, she is dressed all in pink wearing a tiara. In another, she has a blue bow in her hair. A third shows her curled up on the sofa next to her teddy bear.
This is the little girl her mother Frankie Smith and her partner Savannah Brockhill wanted us to see; that of a smiling, happy, beautiful toddler.
But it was a grotesque lie, a perversion of the truth.
The reality of 16-month-old Star’s tragically short life was captured on chilling home video and CCTV footage found by the police.
Amongst the most disturbing was a clip of Brockhill slapping Star, punching her in the face and stomach, and hitting her while feeding her with a bottle.
Star received a total of 21 blows that time. The abuse was inflicted over a three-hour period.
She was also filmed crawling painfully up the communal staircase to the flat in Keighley, West Yorkshire, where she lived – existed would be more accurate – with her mum.
It was here, in a separate incident, that she toppled on to the floor after falling asleep – that too was captured on camera before being set to music and edited in slow-motion by Brockhill, who was a constant presence in the flat.
She ‘found it funny’ – like something that might be featured on TV’s You’ve Been Framed – she would later tell the jury.
Smith did nothing to protect her own daughter from her girlfriend and on one occasion held her head underwater to stop her crying, the court heard.
She had been in a bad mood with Star for tearing up her signed ticket to a concert by pop band The Rubettes.
This was the world Star Hobson inhabited, a world no child should have to endure: a mother who showed no interest in motherhood and was capable of cruelty, and a ‘stepmother’ who was truly wicked.
Who was the more culpable?
The jury decided it was Brockhill, a one-time pub bouncer, who was convicted of murder following an eight-week trial yesterday.
But Smith, who was found guilty of causing or allowing the death of a child, also had blood on her hands.
By the time of Star’s death in September 2020, she had suffered what Bradford Crown Court heard were ‘utterly catastrophic’ and ‘unsurvivable’ abdominal injuries, as well as two breaks to her shin bone caused by forceful twisting; a 12cm ‘crazy-paving’ fracture to the back of her skull; fractured ribs; a laceration to a vein.
Frankie Smith, 20, did nothing to protect her own daughter Star from her girlfriend and on one occasion held her head underwater to stop her crying, the court heard
Savannah Brockhill, 28, left school at the age of ten and came out at 19. She came from an English gipsy family; her mother’s side traditionally lived in a caravan
Yet there were multiple missed opportunities to save her.
Five times social services were contacted by family and friends. Five times their concerns were dismissed.
The police were involved in one of those five interventions and, on a sixth, they were contacted independently of social services.
No one should underestimate the daily pressures social workers on the front line are under, managing ever-growing caseloads with depleted resources.
Sometimes they are left in the invidious position of being damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
But ordinary members of the public will struggle to understand why Frankie Smith and Savannah Brockhill were given the benefit of the doubt time and time again.
Not for the first time political correctness, it seems, played a part in all this.
Social workers, the jury heard, accepted Smith’s story that the complaints were ‘malicious’ and down to relatives not approving of their same-sex relationship or Brockhill’s traveller background.
Was the fact that Star’s maternal great-grandmother Anita Smith and her partner David Fawcett were worried about her having her head shaved in the gipsy tradition, as most grandparents would be, evidence of this ‘maliciousness’?
Again, it seems as if it might have been, as Mr Fawcett explained outside court: ‘We found out that Brockhill wanted to shave Star’s head like gypsies do.
‘Anita phoned social services, but we didn’t even get a visit or get told the case had been closed.
‘Our referral was classed as malicious but there was no malice on our part. Anita has friends who are in same-sex relationships and she also has happy gipsy friends.’
How many times have we been here? Arthur Labinjo-Hughes was killed aged six by his father and stepmother in June 2020.
It emerged earlier this month that authorities ignored compelling evidence that Arthur was being tortured.
Star’s suffering seems all the more shocking because society tends to view women as carers, nurturers and protectors.
Brockhill, 28, who worked as a pub bouncer and security guard and was also an experienced boxer, was the polar opposite.
She left school at the age of ten and came out at 19. Brockhill came from an English gipsy family; her mother’s side traditionally lived in a caravan.
Aged 16, she picked up a police caution for a public order offence and was convicted of using threatening, abusive words or behaviour in her early 20s.
Before moving into security work, she was employed in the care industry – yes, she was a carer.
Smith, 20, on the other hand, had a very different background.
She had a good upbringing in the Baildon area of Bradford but had an IQ which put her in the bottom two per cent of the population.
Described in court as ‘immature’, she was still playing with dolls not long before she became pregnant.
Star was born on May 21 2019, the product of a brief affair Smith had with a student. Within a few months, though, they had split up after he headed off to university in Sunderland.
Newly single, Smith preferred going out drinking to looking after her baby and relied on family and friends to help care for Star. It was on one of those nights out that she met Brockhill, who was on the door at The Sun pub in Bradford.
‘She was very confident and outgoing, and was really interested in me,’ Smith, a supermarket worker, told the jury. ‘I liked how confident she was but I’d never looked at a girl in that way before.’
Their 11-month relationship was toxic from the start, with Smith becoming subservient to the domineering – and increasingly violent – Brockhill.
Brockhill bossed Smith around remorselessly, telling her to implement a strict eating and sleeping routine.
It went much further than that, though. At times, her controlling personality verged on the psychotic.
Brockhill warned Smith off talking to men or anyone showing an interest in her new girlfriend.
On one occasion, she posted a video online with knife and bomb emojis and the message: ‘I am a psycho when it comes to my girlfriend and wouldn’t mind putting anyone in a [wheel] chair for the rest of their life if they so much as look at her wrongly. Keep safe, don’t message my girlfriend.’
Once, when Smith went out without her, she sent her more than 200 messages and calls, along with a video of Brockhill ‘licking blood off a wall’ and threatening ‘to stab someone tonight’.
Partners in death: Savannah Brockhill, 28 and Frankie Smith, 20, have both been convicted over killing Star Hobson
Police released a picture of Star smiling happily before the torment from her mother and her murdering girlfriend began
Abused Star was so dazed she walked into a sofa in view of social worker during one visit
Nevertheless, Smith became ‘obsessed’ with her older lover. The two would spend hours on the phone ignoring Star’s needs – when she was not actually being brutalised.
But Star’s plight did not go unnoticed; abuse such as this rarely does.
The first social services referral was made on January 23 last year – eight months before Star died.
Holly Jones, who often babysat for Smith, noticed bruising on her and raised her fears about potential domestic abuse, which resulted in police and social services visiting Smith.
No action was taken.
Their housing association flat was tidy; the couple themselves were well turned out. But then people who abuse children are ‘cunning and clever’ – words, of course, used to describe Brockhill in court.
The following month, after the first referral, Star went to stay with her great-grandmother Mrs Smith and Mr Fawcett for ten weeks because they thought her mother wasn’t coping.
Star gained weight, suffered no more bruising and became a happy baby again, at least temporarily.
On the day Smith came to take her back, a neighbour recalled how ‘Star was terrified and screaming down the path’.
Just nine days later Mrs Smith contacted social services after, the court heard, learning about play-fights in the flat with Star that involved a ‘choke-slam’ wrestling manoeuvre.
Social workers saw no bruising and found Star to be comfortable with Brockhill.
No action was taken.
Mrs Smith and Mr Fawcett were then banned from seeing Star by the couple.
But in June the authorities were called in for the third time when Smith’s older sister Alicia Szepler took photographs of bruises on her niece and sent them to police.
She told officers her sibling swore at Star and deprived her of food.
The allegations coincided with Star’s biological father, Jordan Hobson, who had also been sent the picture of his bruised daughter, voicing his concerns with social services.
The toddler was taken to Bradford Royal Infirmary. The doctor who examined Star accepted Smith’s excuse that she bumped into a coffee table and sustained other bruising while playing with a puppy.
No action was taken.
Two more referrals – the fourth and fifth – were made to social services by friends and relatives.
No action was taken.
Asked about the referrals under cross-examination, Smith said her grandmother was from a generation that sometimes had difficulty with gay relationships – but it was social services who actually used the word ‘malicious’ to describe the complaints, she insisted.
‘They said it to me,’ Smith told the jury.
She was pressed on this point by prosecutor Alistair MacDonald QC, who asked her: ‘At every social services referral you were convincing them they were malicious reports, they [her family] didn’t like your relationship?’ ‘Yes,’ she replied.
Star’s fleeting life came to an end after being ‘punched, stamped on, or kicked’ in the stomach, probably by Brockhill, while Smith left the living room to go to the bathroom, the court heard.
The savagery in September last year left Star with a ruptured vein that led to bleeding in her abdominal cavity.
Instead of dialling 999, the two people who were supposed to protect her Googled ‘how to bring a baby out of shock’ and there was an 11-minute delay as Brockhill attempted CPR before calling an ambulance.
Star’s fleeting life came to an end after being ‘punched, stamped on, or kicked’ in the stomach, probably by Brockhill, while Smith left the living room to go to the bathroom, the court heard
The savagery in September last year left Star with a ruptured vein that led to bleeding in her abdominal cavity
By the time Star reached hospital she was already dead. Even then, the cowardly pair colluded in a desperate attempt to escape justice.
Smith initially lied to police; Star was lying on the floor alone when she came back into the lounge, she said, and it was later suggested that another toddler was in the room and may have fallen on Star.
During the trial Smith gave a fresh statement to police revealing the true version of events; that Brockhill was holding Star immediately after the assault.
The failings in this case are perhaps epitomised by the fifth and final complaint to social services from Star’s maternal great-grandfather which resulted in an unannounced visit. Star was found to have some bruising and was unsteady on her feet.
Her mother said she had fallen down the stairs. Her ‘explanation’ was accepted – again.
However, it was agreed that a social worker would stay in touch and arranged a meeting for September 22, but Smith texted to postpone.
It was the last chance to save Star. She sustained her fatal injuries later that same day.
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