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Spellbound by monster who murdered her daughter: Little Star’s ‘highly-compliant’ mother who has an IQ of 70 was ‘obsessed’ with female bouncer she met at pub before shutting out worried family when they contacted social services
- Frankie Smith was born in Bradford to Yvonne Spendley and Andrew Smith in prosperous suburb of Baildon
- She was still playing with dolls aged 16, and was described by a psychologist as being ‘abnormally compliant’
- Smith started going out with Brockhill soon after they met in October 2019 and quickly fell under her spell
- Both women will be handed sentences today, with Smith facing a maximum possible prison term of 14 years
Frankie Smith feigned the characteristics of a loving mother, crowing how the birth of little Star – with her cherubic face and bright, blue eyes – was the ‘best thing that has ever happened to me’.
Yet the 20-year-old, born into a close-knit family with relatives at hand to help her through the early years of motherhood, would go on to abandon her child to unimaginable abuse at the hands of her evil girlfriend, Savannah Brockhill.
This would end with the self-proclaimed ‘psycho’ – a bouncer and amateur boxer – pummeling the defenceless toddler to death in one final act of sickening violence.
Smith was yesterday found guilty of allowing Star to be killed by Brockhill, 28, who was convicted of murder. Just 11 days earlier, Emma Tustin, the stepmother of tragic six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, was jailed for his murder after social services ignored compelling evidence he was being tortured.
So how did Frankie Smith descend to such a level of callousness that she was prepared to leave her child in the hands of a monster?
And, with worried relatives making five referrals to social services in the eight months before Star died, how did the authorities fail to realise she was utterly incapable of caring for her in yet another missed chance to avert a tragedy?
Frankie Smith, 20, mother of 16-month-old Star Hobson, who was murdered by Smith’s partner, Savannah Brockhill, 28
Smith – who was interested in dating women but still maintained to be heterosexual – started going out with Brockhill (middle) soon after they first met in October 2019 and quickly fell under her spell
Smith was born in Bradford to Yvonne Spendley and Andrew Smith.
She grew up in Baildon, a prosperous suburb blessed with plenty of green space, and attended Titus Salt School, according to local newspaper the Telegraph & Argus. The school – founded in 1896 by the politician and philanthropist Sir Titus Salt – was rated Good by Ofsted at its most recent inspection.
But Smith, who had a half brother and a half sister, never took to education, with tests revealing her IQ of just 70, placing her in the bottom two per cent of the population.
She was also ‘abnormally compliant’ and ‘abnormally prone to going along with what an authority figure is telling her to do’, according to a police psychiatrist.
Smith’s parents became estranged, and she was brought up by Ms Spendley in a single-parent household.
She demonstrated a striking lack of maturity for her age, and at 16 was still playing with dolls. Just a year later she fell pregnant to her student boyfriend, Jordan Hobson, but their relationship soon broke down and he returned to university in Sunderland.
Star was born in May 2019.
Interviewed by police following the toddler’s death, Smith – who worked in a supermarket – maintained that she had always been a dedicated mother.
‘I loved [Star] more than anything in the world, I’d do anything for her,’ she told the officers. ‘My money always went on her. Motherhood is the best thing that ever happened to me.’
But in reality she had no interest in looking after the toddler. She would dress her up in nice clothes but leave all the important tasks – like cleaning, nappy changing and meals – to others.
Smith (pictured with Brockhill) had an IQ of just 70 and was completely in thrall to her girlfriend, the trial heard
A timeline of failures: How social services and police missed abuse of tragic Star
January 23, 2020 – A referral from Smith’s friend and sometimes babysitter Holly Jones went to social services.
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.
May 5, 2020 – Star’s great-grandmother Anita Smith contacted social services 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.
June 21, 2020 – Jordan Hobson, Star’s father, referred Smith and Brockhill to social services 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 they were from her playing with a puppy were believed.
June 23, 2020 – Social services were again contacted 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.
September 2, 2020 – 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.
Most weekends she would leave her with her babysitter, Holly Jones, and go out drinking in pubs around Bradford, frequently with her mother, Yvonne.
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 told the jury. ‘I liked how confident she was but I’d never looked at a girl in that way before.’
Smith – who was interested in dating women but still maintained to be heterosexual – started going out with Brockhill soon after they first met in October 2019 and quickly fell under her spell.
Some of her extended family had opposed the relationship due to it being with another woman, as well as due to Brockhill’s background as a traveller.
These concerns would later go on to affect how the case was later dealt with by social services, the trial heard.
Faced with numerous referrals from concerned family members, social workers accepted Smith’s story that they were ‘malicious’ and motivated by prejudice, the jury were told.
The couple’s 11-month liaison 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 attacked Smith on a number of occasions, leaving her with black eyes and bruises across her body.
Once, she punched her in the face in an unprovoked assault in a pub, leaving her with a chipped tooth.
Brockhill warned Smith off talking to men or anyone showing an interest in her new girlfriend.
She even 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’.
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.
Babysitter Holly 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 Anita Smith and her partner, David 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’.
Frankie’s father, Andrew Smith, (left) took his own life in June after sending his daughter Frankie a letter in jail saying he would look after her murdered daughter Star. Pictured right: Star’s great-grandfather, David Fawcett
Frankie Smith is HERSELF a victim of her ‘pure evil’ partner who murdered her 16-month-old daughter, barrister tells court
Star Hobson’s mother was described as ‘another victim’ of the little girl’s murderer by her lawyer in court this morning
Frankie Smith is being sentenced for causing or allowing 16-month-old Star’s death alongside her former partner Savannah Brockhill, who was found guilty of the youngster’s murder.
Addressing Bradford Crown Court, Zafar Ali QC, for Smith, said: ‘She is herself a victim of the murder count, having lost her daughter.
‘She was plainly unaware of the seriousness of the assaults being inflicted on her daughter.’
Smith and Brockhill pictured together
Bouncer and security guard Brockhill, 28, was branded ‘pure evil’ by Star’s family, who said she ‘ascended from the bowels of hell’ after she was on Tuesday found guilty of murdering the youngster.
A jury heard Star endured months of assaults and psychological harm before suffering ‘utterly catastrophic’ injuries in her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire.
Smith, 20, was cleared of murder but was convicted of causing or allowing the toddler’s death – an offence with a 14-year maximum prison sentence.
Today Mr Ali asked judge Mrs Justice Lambert to take a number of things into account before sentencing Smith, including that she has no previous convictions and is ‘remorseful for her wilful ill-treatment of Star’.
Kath Goddard QC, for Brockhill, said her client had written to the judge on Wednesday morning but the content of this note was not read to the court.
She explained how Brockhill’s arrest had put her whole family in danger and described how her brother-in-law had been subject to an ‘extremely violent assault’, leaving him with a fractured skull.
Ms Goddard said: ‘The wider Brockhill family have been, and I anticipate they will continue to be, subjected to intimidation or, at the very least, unpleasant behaviour which they do not deserve.
‘Miss Brockhill is extremely conscious that she had brought this on her family.’
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.
Mr Fawcett was also concerned about Brockhill’s desire to shave Star’s hair in accordance with gipsy tradition – something that may have fuelled social services’ mistaken belief that his complaints were motivated by prejudice.
When they visited, 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.
By the time Star reached hospital she was already dead.
In the ambulance on the way to hospital, Smith told her mother she had been out of the room when Star was attacked before entering to find Brockhill there.
Then in the hospital Smith – ever compliant – agreed to her girlfriend’s request to lie about what happened and claim that both she and Brockhill were outside the room and only entered after hearing a ‘bang’.
But the horrific truth was no secret to Smith’s family and her father, Andrew, took his own life on his daughter’s birthday in June after sending her a heartbreaking note in prison promising to look after her child.
Midway through the trial Smith would finally tell the truth to the jury: that Brockhill had murdered Star and she had done nothing to stop her.
Their sentencing today may finally achieve justice for the toddler – but it is only the start of another reckoning for social services and society as a whole.
Brockhill, 28 and Smith, 20, were convicted for killing Star Hobson and sentenced this afternoon
Police released a harrowing picture of one of the bruises on Star’s face that sparked calls to social services from family
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