Ex-boyfriend of Star Hobson's mum begged her to report abuse

An ex-boyfriend of Star Hobson’s mother has told how she ignored his pleas to tell social services the truth about the toddler’s abuse.

Pete Penman had an ‘on and off’ relationship with Frankie Smith before they broke up for good and she met Savannah Brockhill, who murdered the 16-month-old after subjecting the child to months of cruelty.

Pete, 24, told he had repeatedly urged ‘terrified’ Smith to escape the violence that Brockhill was inflicting on her and Star.

But he said that, tragically, Frankie hid the truth despite her great-grandfather David Fawcett, 61, and his partner Anita Smith, 70, being among those who called social workers with their concerns about the child.

Brockhill, a security guard and amateur boxer, punched and stamped Star to death on September 22 last year in Keighley, West Yorkshire.

Pete, who met Frankie in a pub when he was out with a friend after a football match, said he has asked himself ‘a million questions’ since finding out about Star’s death from a mutual friend.

‘We met in the summer and we were seeing each other for quite a few months on and off,’ he said. ‘I would go round to Frankie’s house and I would go shopping with Frankie and Star.

‘I remember Star being in my son’s car seat at one point, she was happy and healthy. There were no signs of anything wrong at the time, none.

‘It was all when Savannah came along. Everything changed. Frankie changed with me, she changed with everyone.

‘She used to be open for meeting up and then when Savannah came along, she would make excuses, she would make any excuse to put it off.

‘Frankie eventually told me about Savannah and said she wouldn’t let her see anyone, she blocked me on certain social media and put me under another name on her phone. It just became really messy.’

Brockhill, 28, was yesterday found guilty of murdering Star after the appalling campaign of cruelty against the toddler.

Smith, 20, was cleared of murder at Bradford Crown Court but convicted of the lesser charge of causing or allowing her death.

Star died after suffering ‘utterly catastrophic’ injuries at the couple’s flat, the court heard. Harrowing details that emerged during the six-week trial included the couple filming acts of cruelty against the toddler, with Smith’s family and friends noticing bruises and contacting social services.

Brockhill, who described herself as ‘number one psycho’, was caught on CCTV ‘terrorising’ Star while left to babysit her.

The court also heard how the couple had been in a ‘toxic relationship’ for 11 months at the time of the murder.

Five referrals were made in the nine months before Star was killed, including from another of her great-grandfathers.

Pete, who was a residential care worker in a children’s home at the time, believes his former partner was ‘terrified’ of violent Savannah.

The father-of-one said: ‘It was only when Frankie started shutting people out that I found out about the abuse.

‘Frankie told me numerous times that Savannah had hit her. I told her to get rid of her and she said, “I will do, I will do”, I think she tried but she was just in too much of a pickle with her.

‘If she had got away from Savannah then this wouldn’t have happened.

‘Frankie was a very gentle soul, to see her, she wouldn’t have said boo to a ghost. I think she was more scared of losing Star than anything else.

‘Social services got involved and she rang me for advice, because I have a lot of experience with social services through work, and I told her to tell the truth because they would find out anyway. I urged her many times.

‘She said, “yeah but I’ll lose Star”.

‘I said not necessarily and she should speak with them when Savannah wasn’t there and to say she wanted somewhere else to live as she was struggling with Star. Then she could escape Savannah.

‘I even offered to help her write a letter or an email. But she was terrified of Savannah, all she could think about was Savannah’s reaction.’

Brockhill and Smith, who had been together for 11 months at the time of Star’s death, persuaded social workers that marks on the toddler were accidental or that the complaints were made maliciously by people who did not like their relationship.

In reality, Star suffered months of assaults and psychological torment before dying on the way to hospital.

‘Frankie said every time that every time Savannah got angry she would hit her and she couldn’t do anything, because Savannah was a bouncer,’ Pete said. ‘She didn’t say too much about Star, but Star would turn up with bruises because of Savannah.

‘I was angry and upset, and I was willing to get involved but I could only get involved if Frankie wanted me to.

‘I urged her to have a meeting with social services but when I asked her afterwards if she said anything she said “no” because Savannah was there.’

The case has echoes of other child murders, including Baby P, who died at his home in north London in 2007 after sustaining more than 50 injuries.

Pete, from Bradford, said: ‘I have known people go through a lot worse with social services for a lot less. It’s a Baby P scenario all over again.

‘They missed the tell-tale signs. It shows how the Bradford social workers have so much going on, one social worker can have up to 11 young people to deal with, it’s too much.

‘Had someone of listened, it wouldn’t have got this far.’

Pete, now employed by the military, found out through a mutual friend about Star’s death on the day it happened.

‘A million questions went through my mind when I heard the news,’ he said.

‘One of my first questions was whether Savannah was there and I asked myself if I could have done more to have prevented this.

‘My thoughts now are that people in that situation need to close it early or ask for help, before they get in too deep. Once you get caught in a ball of wool you get tangled in it and you don’t know what’s going to happen.

‘The sooner you get help you can prevent something terrible happening.’

Brockhill was jailed for life with a minimum term of 25 years for murder at the court today while Smith was jailed for eight years for causing or allowing the child’s death.

Bradford Partnership – Working Together to Safeguard Children said it was ‘sorry for the death of Star’, whose life had been ‘cut cruelly short’.

An independent review is being carried out and is expected to report back in January 2022 with recommendations to improve its services.

In a statement, the partnership said ‘we have already put in place actions that will improve our practice so that we learn those lessons’.

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