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Star Hobson: what did Savannah Brockhill and Frankie Smith do to toddler and what did review into death say?

Star Hobson was 16 months old when she was murdered by Savannah Brockhill, prior to her death social services were contacted five times

The great-grandfather of murdered toddler Star Hobson has spoken of his anger social workers’ investigation into her case was closed a week before her death.

David Fawcett has spoken of his hope lessons can be learned after the “pretty damning” findings of a review into her death.

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Star’s mum Frankie Smith, 20, was jailed last year for her role in the death of her 16-month-old daughter, who was killed by Smith’s former partner Savannah Brockhill.

A review into the deaths of Star and Arthur Labinjo-Hughes has said dedicated child protection teams made up of police, healthcare staff and social workers should be set up in every local area.

Brockhill, a bouncer and security guard, was found guilty of murder, while Smith was found guilty of causing or allowing Star’s death and handed an eight-year prison sentence, later increased to 12 years.

Bradford Council later had children’s social services removed from its control and handed to an arms-length trust.

What did the review say?

On Thursday a review into Star’s death found that children’s social care services in Bradford had been “in turmoil” at the time, with a high turnover of social workers and a high volume of work affecting quality and contributing to assessments that were “too superficial” and did not address repeated concerns from family members.

The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel said an early opportunity to help Smith, who was 17 when she became pregnant, was missed as no antenatal health visit took place, and that she was not offered the support of the teenage pregnancy midwife as she was over 16.

It also said that domestic abuse between Brockhill and Smith, who met when Star was five months old, was not assessed, with Smith “not given sufficient space to disclose what was happening to her”.

Brockhill, a bouncer and security guard, was found guilty of murder, while Smith was found guilty of causing or allowing Star’s death and handed an eight-year prison sentence, later increased to 12 years.

Bradford Council later had children’s social services removed from its control and handed to an arms-length trust.

Savannah Brockhill and Frankie Smith.

What happened to Star Hobson?

Star died after she was taken to hospital in September 2020, having suffered “utterly catastrophic” and “unsurvivable” injuries at Brockhill’s hands.

Medics arrived at the flat in Keighley, West Yorkshire., at around 3.49pm on 22 September last year and found Star apparently lifeless, pale and wearing only a disposable nappy.

Star was in cardiac arrest and as they attempted CPR, Star vomited ‘large amounts’ of brown material and a suction device was used to remove it, the court heard.

She was rushed to Airedale hospital – just six minutes away - where clinicians did everything they could to save her but she was pronounced dead that afternoon.

Star Hobson

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”.

He said she was ‘repeatedly physically assaulted over the weeks and months before her death’.

She had been found to have had two fractures to the right shin bone ‘caused by forceful twisting’, a fractured skull and an old brain injury, tests found.

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 court also heard of a ‘slam choke’ that Brockhill used on Star, which involved her being picked up off her feet and held by the neck and thrown onto the bed.

What has Star’s great-grandfather said?

Social services were contacted five times by concerned relatives and friends, with police also visiting the family.

Each time, the safeguarding panel said, the couple convinced social workers that bruising on Star was accidental or the complaints were made maliciously by friends and family who did not like their relationship.

Star’s great-grandfather, David Fawcett, 62, said he felt vindicated as the report acknowledged that “Star’s wider family members were not listened to”.

“Savannah Brockhill said it was malicious gossip and they believed her over us,” Mr Fawcett said.

Mr Fawcett spoke of his anger at learning social workers’ investigation into Star’s case was closed a week before she died.

“Reading between the lines, they didn’t have the manpower, which is why they had to close the case – it’s pretty damning,” he said.

“The proposals they’ve put forward are positive because it’s communication – that’s where Star was failed, a lack of communication between different authorities.

“How it was run before was pretty shambolic but I am optimistic something can be done and lessons will be learned.”

He told the BBC: “We’re hoping something will come out of this. We don’t want things happening to other children like what happened to Star.

“We hope there are changes for the better.”

Mr Fawcett said Smith herself was “failed” by social services

Mr Fawcett said he would visit Smith in prison and talk her through the report’s contents as she would be “too upset”.

His partner Anita Smith, 70, called social workers in May 2020 after family members told her Brockhill was “slam-choking” Star – lifting her by the throat and throwing her on a bed.

He said: “When we made the referral and they went to the house, they should have come to us first to understand why we’d done it.

“If we’d have been allowed to go to the house that day, I think Star would have been with us today.”

Mr Fawcett said Smith was a “young mum and struggling to cope herself”.

“When she stayed with us we didn’t have a problem with her. She got pregnant and she just struggled.

“I don’t know how it’s come to this – we were such a close-knit family.

“We always all stuck together, and then you just get someone coming into your lives like Savannah Brockhill and just causing absolute mayhem.”

Who is Savannah Brockhill?

Savannah Brockhill called herself a “psycho” in a Snapchat video.

Savannah Brockhill was the partner of Star’s mum Frankie Smith.

Bradford Crown Court heard Smith was 19 when Star was born on 21 May, 2019 and struggled as a new mother – going to live with her own mother, Yvonne Spendley, for a time after the birth.

Smith started seeing Brockhill when Star was about six months old, after she split up with Star’s father, Jordan Hobson.

They met when Brockhill was working as door security at pubs in Bradford where Smith went drinking.

Brockhill told the trial jury she identified as bisexual in her teens and came out at 19.

Brockhill, who was jailed for life with a minimum of 25 years, had also been a keen amateur boxer.

In a Snapchat video Brockhill warned people off friend requesting her girlfriend, saying Smith was with the “number one psycho”.

In a caption that accompanied the video it states: “I’m a psycho when it comes to my girlfriend and wouldn’t mind putting anyone in a chair for the rest of the life if they as much as look at her wrongly.”

Jurors heard that the pair had a “toxic” relationship characterised by arguments, break-ups and reports of violence.

Smith’s family and friends have emphatically denied the pair’s claims that they took against them because they were a same-sex couple or due to Brockhill’s traveller background.

At the beginning of February 2020, Star went to live with her great-grandparents after one tearful break-up.

What has been said about the review?

Janice Hawkes, independent chairwoman of the Bradford Partnership, said: “I want to say first and foremost that Star’s death in such awful circumstances should not have happened and that we are truly sorry that it did.

“We know agencies let Star down and we must put things right.

“The publication of this thorough and detailed independent review outlines very clearly the opportunities that we missed locally to better protect Star.

“We have already put in place steps to tackle this but we recognise that there is still work to do and as a partnership we are entirely committed to improving the safety of children across Bradford.”

Kersten England, chief executive of Bradford Council, said: “The murder of Star Hobson was horrific and distressing and I am deeply sorry that opportunities to protect her from such cruel and despicable abuse were missed.

“Our thoughts are, and always will be, with those who loved her.

“The expert report is tough to read but it is absolutely essential that we understand in detail what went wrong.

“I accept its findings and assure everyone that firm action has been and will continue to be taken to strengthen our child protection processes and help prevent a tragic case like this from happening again.”

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