In her 16 short months, Star Hobson lived a life in two halves – the first filled with the warmth of true love, the second with cold, callous mistreatment. Concerns were raised. Star’s family say they tried to warn authorities. So how did a little girl adored by so many end up dead after months of physical and emotional abuse?
Star Hobson was, in many ways, a typical toddler. Born in May 2019 into a big family, she was adored and showered with love and affection. An extended support network of relatives close and distant meant someone who doted upon the infant was rarely far away.
“I couldn’t wait to get home from work to see her. I’d be dashing home and think: ‘little Star will be there when we get back’,” says great-grandad David Fawcett.
He remembers happy times with the toddler, watching her playful personality emerge at his home in Baildon, West Yorkshire.
“Every time she heard music, that’d be it. Her little head would be going and she’d start dancing in front of the telly,” he says.
Star’s earlier, happier life was filled with love. Pictures posted on social media show a cheeky, smiling little girl with piercing blue eyes and a mop of short, mousey brown hair. In one family snap she is surrounded by gift bags, wearing a pink dress and an elaborate plastic tiara.
To those who loved her, Star was their princess.
“If you could bottle that time…I’d just love to replay it over and over again, because it was absolutely brilliant,” says David.
But the happy baby who melted the hearts of all who met her would endure a second, darker existence.
Gradually isolated and shielded from the loving gaze of devoted family members, she would slowly succumb to mistreatment at the hands of two people who should have cared for her the most: mother Frankie Smith and her partner Savannah Brockhill.
On the day of Star’s death in September 2020 she was found, lifeless and pale, at the pair’s flat in Keighley, West Yorkshire, and pronounced dead in hospital. A post-mortem examination would find evidence of catastrophic, unsurvivable injuries. Their likely cause: punching, kicking or stamping.
This act of violence was not a one-off. Further investigation would reveal a string of other significant injuries to her tiny body, not least a skull fracture and a shin fracture caused by “forceful twisting”.
Relatives say they raised the alarm. Five referrals were made to social services. But it was not enough to save the little girl from her mother and her domineering, controlling partner.
Star was six months old when Frankie Smith broke up with the child’s father, Jordan Hobson, in November 2019.
A month later, she met Savannah Brockhill at the pub where the older woman worked on door security. The two began an on-off, volatile relationship peppered with arguments and instances of domestic violence.
David Fawcett, Frankie Smith’s grandfather, says her family noticed a change in her attitude towards Star after she met Brockhill. It wasn’t long before the “dominating and controlling” bouncer and security guard “got into Frankie’s head” and left the young mother fearful of her partner.
This appeared to have an effect on the little girl. Star’s babysitter thought she had changed and “not for the better”. In January 2020, she would be the first person to contact Bradford social services.
By February 2020, the relationship and caring duties had taken their toll on Smith and she asked her grandmother, Anita Smith, for help with the toddler.
David says he and Anita, his partner of 27 years, picked up Star and thought she looked thin, sad and depressed.
“I’ve never seen a depressed baby before. She was looking at the floor and Anita said: ‘Oh, look at her, poor little Star. She’s never gonna be the same again’,” he says.
But David says staying with her great-grandparents brought about an almost instant change in Star: “Within about two, three days she just perked up and she was absolutely brilliant. Magic.”
Star would stay with David and Anita for 11 weeks until late April 2020. David says the point Star returned to her mother was when “everything changed”.
“Frankie rang and said, ‘we’re gonna keep her here now’, he says. “And then Savannah more or less said: ‘She’s our child. We’re gonna bring her up our way’. And that’s how all this started off, really.”
Soon afterwards, in May 2020, Anita Smith would become the second person to contact Bradford social services about Star after learning she had been “slam-choked” by Brockhill.
David says: “We’d never heard of it. What’s slam-choking a 10-month-old baby? What’s going on? We were told Savannah…she picks her up and she grabs her neck and throws her on the bed.”
He says Anita called social services and warned Bradford Council they would have “another Baby P on their hands” if they did not intervene in Star’s case. But he says the complaint was closed after it had been dismissed as malicious and based on their dislike of Brockhill.
It was at this point that the couple began to isolate themselves from family members. According to David, Brockhill helped to move Frankie Smith and Star to Keighley, several miles away from her great-grandparents in Baildon.
He says: “Savannah didn’t want anything to do with us.
t the women’s trial, Bradford Crown Court would hear that Brockhill favoured a tough parenting style, one which Smith would try to enforce with shouting and other punishments.
Brockhill admitted striking the toddler. In a text to Smith, she described Star as a “brat”. “She thinks nothing of you,” she added.
Relatives, on the increasingly rare occasions they were allowed to see the toddler, would begin to notice marks and bruises on her body. During the couple’s trial it was heard that, as early as June 2020, Brockhill was making internet searches for how to take away bruising quickly.
In the same month, Star’s father, Jordan Hobson, would make a third referral to authorities after seeing photos of Star with a bruised cheek.
Police visited Frankie Smith and Star was examined by a doctor. This would be the only time she was taken for medical treatment. On this occasion, as on others, the couple explained away the injuries, blaming them on the clumsy toddler: Star hitting her head on a coffee table; walking into a sofa; falling and tripping. It was enough for the cases to be closed.
She was telling Frankie to keep Star away. It wasn’t so long before our phone calls were getting blocked.”
Away from watchful eyes, Star would endure an accelerating campaign of physical and psychological torment.