Joanne Early works as a Regional Manager for Victim Support’s Homicide Service.
Along with over 150 other members of staff and volunteers, it’s her job to support families in England and Wales who have been bereaved by murder or manslaughter.
Here she talks about her commended work supporting the grandparents of Ellie Butler, who was murdered by her father at six years old.
‘We first got consent to support the family about two weeks after Ellie died, so I arranged to meet the grandparents in November 2013 for a visit. When we talked, the thing they most wanted to do was to bury Ellie, and that’s a very common need with families.
‘But, because Neal and Linda were grandparents, they weren’t legally entitled to have Ellie’s body released to them. I obtained solicitors’ advice and looked at the Coroners Charter and the Coroners and Justice Act, but the only path forward was mediation between them and the parents.
‘During this time, the police investigation was progressing, and dad was charged with murder. Subsequently, mum was charged with perverting the course of justice and child cruelty.
‘That meant I felt able to write to the coroner and argue that Ellie’s body should be released to the grandparents on strong moral grounds, which is what happened.
‘Neal and Linda were able to have a funeral for Ellie, and they were so grateful. It was the last thing they could do for Ellie.
‘The next significant need I identified was emotional support. Neal and Linda had mixed experiences with social services and the criminal justice process surrounding her father’s first conviction and subsequent exoneration, and felt dreadful mistakes had been made.
‘Luckily, they kept every scrap of paper, every email, every court document and they handed it to me in a big cardboard box and said ‘help’.
‘It took six months to go through each piece of evidence — but they were determined that what happened to Ellie wouldn’t happen to other children.
‘They are now at the stage where a public inquiry or an Article 2 inquest is a real possibility in order to thoroughly investigate the actions of the professionals involved in her case.
‘Somehow, Neal’s still fired up to fight. He wants answers about those fatal mistakes in the family courts. Until then, he won’t stop.
‘And my job is to continue providing support for as long as he needs us as a service.’
Speaking in an interview with the Guardian, Ellie’s grandfather Neal Butler described Joanne as a ‘rock’.
Read more about Ellie’s case and Neal’s quest for answers.
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