Star Hobson never got the chance to shine, her light was snatched away by Savannah Brockhill, 28, who killed 20-year-old lover Frankie Smith’s daughter Star Hobson at her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire. Brockhill’s chance pub meeting with Smith at their local pub in Bradford in October 2019 set off a tragic chain of events that resulted in Star’s horrific abuse and murder. Smith had visited the pub with her then boyfriend and Star’s father, Jordan Hobson, and her mother when she became smitten with Brockhill. Within less than a year, Star would be dead, a victim of the couple’s volatile and violent relationship and according to some, Smith’s increasing obsession with Brockhill at the expense of her own daughter. Tragically relatives and friends raised concerns about Star’s welfare five times with social services who failed to intervene after being fobbed off by Smith and Brockhill’s protestations of innocence.
But the jury also heard how threats and violence became a normal part of the pair’s ‘toxic relationship’ with friends believing that Brockhill dominated her younger lover. Exchanges disclosed in court between Brockhill, an amateur boxer and security dog handler, revealed how she became more and more possessive over Smith. During one of their break-ups, on February 29, 2020, Brockhill’s barrister read out a text message from the female bouncer saying,
‘I’m broken. I’ll stab someone tonight I swear’, with another text adding: ‘Honestly, I’m like the devil.’Savannah text message
As it turned out, these violent threats also became physical. Smith painted a picture in court of how she feared for her life in the company of Brockhill, who was trained in self-defence. In one terrifying encounter, on March 14, 2020, she told the court that Brockhill had punched her in the face after she had a fleeting chat with a man in a pub. During the incident, she said Brockhill had grabbed her arm and called her a ‘whore’ while locking her in a bathroom cubicle. Later, during the journey home to their shared flat in Keighley, West Yorkshire, Brockhill had told the young mother, she was going to drive them both ‘off a cliff’. Smith said: ‘She didn’t take me straight to her house, she took us to a wooded area at the end of her street. She said she was going to drive us off a cliff there.’ A psychologist later confirmed that Smith had a very low IQ and was in the bottom 2 per cent of people. He also suggested that she was among the top 3 per cent in regard to her compliance, saying such a person ‘would defer to a perceived authority figure, because they don’t like to upset them, and they tend to be more subservient’. Alicia Szepler, Smith’s sister, said the young mother had developed a ‘strange and unhealthy obsession’ with Brockhill at the expense of her daughter. She told the court that ‘everything changed’ when the couple started dating, adding that a ‘disconnect’ emerged between Miss Smith, little Star and her family.
The first referral to social services had been made on January 27. But by May 5, 2020, more concern had grown about the baby’s welfare after a video surfaced showing Smith meting out violence against the tot. Anita Smith, Star’s great-grandmother, said she phoned social services at that time after seeing a recording of Smith ‘slam choking’ the baby. Three more calls were made to the authorities, with two in June and the final one September 2.
But Brockhill explained that Smith managed to convince the authorities that such complaints were ‘malicious’. Brockhill said: ‘She was told by the social worker to limit contact with the person who made the referral. I heard her say that, as it was a malicious referral. I supported her decision.’ Anita Smith added that she rarely saw the child following the referral and had very little contact with social services. However, during repeated questioning, representatives for Smith also alleged that Brockhill was responsible for injuries found on baby Star. They pointed to July 20, 2020, when Brockhill searched ‘What takes bruising and swelling down’, and ‘What takes bruising away quickly’, around 40 minutes after picking Star up from Smith’s flat. She said that made the queries after finding bruises on the baby, but denied that she was responsible for them, saying: ‘I never punched Star.’
Later it was pointed out that Brockhill had searched the internet on July 24 for: ‘What happens when you get punched in the abdomen.’ But she insisted that she’d broken bones around her ribs and sternum following a sparring session and made the searches as ‘she didn’t feel right.’ Finally, on September 22 last year, the emergency services received a call from Brockhill saying that Star was ‘crying, floppy and being sick’. During the call Smith could also be heard saying ‘I’m here, it’s alright Star,’ as the couple waited for paramedics to attend. When ambulance staff found Star lifeless, pale and wearing only a disposable nappy, they attempted CPR, leading her to vomit ‘large amounts’ of brown material.
She was then rushed to Airedale hospital – just six minutes away – where clinicians did everything they could to save her, but she was pronounced dead that afternoon Lead prosecutor, Alistair McDonald QC, stated that Star had abdominal injuries, ‘Caused by the application of blunt force in the form of a punch, kick or stamp delivered to the front of the abdomen.’ After causing the injuries, Mr McDonald said the pair searched online for ‘shock in babies’ and waited 15 minutes before calling for help. Mr MacDonald added: ‘The reality is that the injuries suffered by Star were so catastrophic that there never was any real chance of saving her life.’ ‘The speed of all this is illustrated by the fact that the ambulance was called at 15.49 and death was pronounced at 16.59 so it all happened in a very short period of time.’ Smith’s representative, Zafar Ali QC, conceded that during the relationship, Smith had neglected her caring duties saying: ‘Frankie Smith was a terrible mother. She was selfish and sometimes callous.’
But he said that Smith had been in the toilet when Star suffered the injuries leading to her death and was not responsible for them. The abuse included the toddler being ‘choke-slammed’ being forced to stand facing a wall and being repeatedly punched. Smith – who has a very low IQ of 70 – was said to have been domineered by her older partner and so enthralled by her she lost interest in her own daughter. Brockhill was aggressively possessive of her and threatened on Snapchat to ‘put anyone in a chair’ who messaged her. At one point the toddler’s great-grandparents Anita Smith and David Fawcett warned the authorities: ‘We don’t want another Baby P on our hands here, do we?’.
But they say they were accused of being ‘troublemakers who made the complaint because we didn’t like gipsies or same sex relationships’. Mr Fawcett revealed ‘The lady on the phone from social services said, ‘how do you mean?’, and we were shocked at her reaction. ‘Well, Baby P died through abuse, and we’re making a complaint. My first reaction would have been, ‘yeah, right, we’re on the ball, we’ll sort this one out, we don’t want another Baby P’. Especially with them being the social services. It just came across as being a bit shambolic, really, Absolutely shambolic.’ Jurors were shown footage which prosecutors said showed Brockhill delivering 21 blows to Star in a car over three hours, some as the toddler sat in a car seat. The video came from a camera at a recycling plant in Doncaster where Brockhill was working as a security guard, and was filmed about eight days before Star’s death.
It appeared to show her punching Star with what the prosecutor described as ‘considerable force’. At one point the youngster fell out of the vehicle. Brockhill also grabbed Star by the throat. They also ‘choke slammed’ the little girl in a twisted discipline metered out. Another film which was shown to the jury, described by the prosecutor as ‘disturbing and bizarre’, showed Star falling off a plastic chair and hitting the floor. The mobile phone footage had been slowed down with music added, plus a caption which said ‘in this moment she realises she has messed up’. Another clip, filmed on both defendants’ phones, showed Star being so exhausted she fell forward and went to sleep in a bowl of food.
Star was taken to hospital on September 22, 2020, but the injuries she had suffered were ‘unsurvivable’, Alistair MacDonald QC told Bradford Crown Court. The jury heard the injuries which caused the toddler’s death involved extensive damage to her abdominal cavity. These were ’caused by a severe and forceful blow or blows, either in the form of punching, stamping or kicking to the abdomen’. Brockhill told the court she came from an English Gypsy family and left school when she was 10, later working as a bouncer. She regularly exhibited violent behaviour, including a Snapchat video in which she boasted: ‘I’m a psycho when it comes to my girlfriend, and wouldn’t mind putting anyone in a chair for the rest of their life if they as much look at her wrongly. Keep safe and don’t message her.’
The jury heard the injuries which caused the child’s death involved extensive damage to her abdominal cavity. These were ’caused by a severe and forceful blow or blows, either in the form of punching, stamping or kicking to the abdomen’. In a recording of the call, Brockhill claims she was in the kitchen making a coffee when she heard a ‘bang’ coming from the living room where Star was playing with three other children.
Brockhill adds: ‘I came out and the little lad’s stood there and the little girl’s on the floor and she was crying and then she was sick. Now she’s just gone a little bit floppy to be honest with you.’ When asked what the bang was, the monster says she doesn’t know if Star had ‘fallen off the sofa’ or if the horror happened when she was playing. She adds: ‘I came in and the little lad was saying ‘Star’…So I’ve obviously shouted for her mum and said ”sit up Star”. ‘I sat her up and I started to rub her back because she was breathing but struggling. She started to be sick so I laid her on the floor.’ Brockhill then claims she began carrying out CPR on Star before placing her in the recovery position. Two month ago the head of the council’s Children Services department Mark Douglas resigned. Ofsted rated the service as ‘inadequate’ in 2018 and warned ‘some children were at serious risk of harm’. In June this year it was hit with a ‘direction to improve’ over a ‘slow pace of change’.