Star Hobson killing: mother’s sentence referred to court of appeal

By Maya Wolfe-Robinson North of England correspondent
Frankie Smith
Frankie Smith, who was jailed last month after being convicted of causing or allowing the death of 16-month-old Star. Photograph: West Yorkshire police/PA

The eight-year jail sentence handed to Frankie Smith for causing or allowing the death of her toddler daughter, Star Hobson, has been referred to the court of appeal.

Suella Braverman, the attorney general, said the case was “tragic and extremely upsetting” and she believed 20-year-old Smith’s sentence was “unduly lenient”.

Star Hobson
Star Hobson. Photograph: West Yorkshire police/PA

Smith was jailed last month after being convicted of causing or allowing the death of her 16-month-old daughter, after a jury cleared her of murder and manslaughter charges. Her partner, Savannah Brockhill, 28, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 25 years.

Braverman said she had concluded that she could not refer Brockhill’s sentence. “I can only challenge a sentence if it is not just lenient but unduly so, such that the sentencing judge made a gross error or imposed a sentence outside the range of sentences reasonably available in the circumstances of the offence. The threshold is a high one, and the test was not met in this case,” she said in a statement.

The toddler died of cardiac arrest after being punched or kicked by Brockhill in September 2020 using “massive force” on a par with “a road traffic accident”, according to the judge. A postmortem revealed previous brain injuries, fractured bones and internal organ injury.

Halfway through the seven-week trial, Smith pleaded guilty to eight instances of child cruelty. The court heard Smith was of extremely low intelligence and “abnormally compliant” when told to do something by an authority figure. However, the judge said she “did not accept” these factors excused Smith’s conduct, describing her as a “neglectful and callous parent” who thought only of her own interests and would have realised her partner was abusing Star.

A local review of Star’s death is due to be published in January after at least five safeguarding referrals were made to Bradford council. It will feed into a national one ordered by the government after the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. The jail sentences handed to Emma Tustin and Thomas Hughes, who killed six-year-old Labinjo-Hughes, were also referred to the court of appeal for being too lenient in December.

Braverman said her thoughts “are with all those who loved Star Hobson”. “This vulnerable and innocent child was subjected to continued physical abuse, and her mother, Frankie Smith, allowed it to happen.

“This case will have caused upset to anyone who read about it, but my job is to decide if a sentence appears to be too low based solely on the facts of the case. I have carefully considered the details of this case, and I concluded that I can refer Frankie Smith’s sentence to the court of appeal as I believe it is unduly lenient.”

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