Ex-pub bouncer Savannah Brockhill shows NO remorse in first jail interview after conviction for sadistically murdering Star Hobson, two, as she tells of her cushy life in prison with woodland view – and vows to APPEAL
Her voice bears no trace of contrition. Nor does she sound remotely afraid, rubbishing a recent report that a fellow inmate scalded her with ‘prison napalm’ — boiled water infused with sugar to exacerbate the pain.
The woman on the phone was convicted last month of a crime of unmitigated terror — the murder of 16-month-old Star Hobson, a beautiful little girl whose twinkling blue eyes befitted her name.
I have spent weeks investigating the story behind this appalling act, the culmination of innumerable torturous attacks on Star, and I imagined Savanna Brockhill would now be cowering remorsefully in her cell at Styal prison, in Cheshire, where she is serving life with a minimum term of 25 years.
Since being jailed, however, I’ve discovered she has splashed out thousands of pounds on gifts for her relatives. Two of her young nephews have received diamond-studded Rolexes costing £9,000.
And when, unexpectedly, her family offer me the chance to speak to her during the hour each day she’s allowed to use a phone, the former boxer with Olympic ambitions sounds as cocksure as she did when she was a pub bouncer.
In prison she works as a cleaner, which passes the days, she says. She has her own room, with a TV, wardrobe, en-suite washing facilities, and a pastoral view from her window.
‘It’s situated around woods and stuff, so birds and squirrels come and it’s nice to see,’ she trills. ‘It’s not inhumane.’
DAVID JONES: I imagined Savanna Brockhill (pictured) would now be cowering remorsefully in her cell at Styal prison, in Cheshire, where she is serving life with a minimum term of 25 years
The irony of this last remark will not be lost on anyone who followed Brockhill’s seven-week trial at Bradford Crown Court.
The story that unfolded left one wondering whether she had an ounce of humanity in her soul.
In November 2019, while working the door at a raucous drag-queen and karaoke bar, popular with Bradford’s gay and lesbian community, Brockhill, then 26, claims one of the revellers began flirting with her — a waif-like girl, eight years her junior, with model looks and luxuriant black hair.
Though Frankie Smith was with her boyfriend that night, they exchanged contact details and within two weeks they were lovers.
What Brockhill didn’t then know was that Smith was the single mother of a six-month-old baby.
And as the trial judge observed, this gorgeous little girl became ‘caught in the crossfire’ of the narcissistic, obsessive, violent, on-off relationship between Brockhill and Smith.
Star’s ‘short life was marked by neglect, cruelty and injury,’ Mrs Justice Lambert told the two women, who sat apart in the dock because they now profess to despise one another.
DAVID JONES: The woman on the phone was convicted last month of a crime of unmitigated terror — the murder of 16-month-old Star Hobson (pictured), a beautiful little girl whose twinkling blue eyes befitted her name
The little girl was killed when Brockhill kicked or punched her in the stomach — with all the force of a crashing car, according to a medical expert. As doctors fought to save her, they found half her blood supply pooling in her abdomen and damage to her liver, pancreas and kidneys.
Yet by then, Star had suffered many serious injuries, skull and rib fractures, and a twice-fractured leg.
The couple would punish the toddler by making her face the wall, though she could barely stand. They took sadistic pleasure in videoing her as they abused her, filming her from different angles as she dozed off in her chair, toppled out, and hit her head on the floor.
Brockhill set the footage to music and sent it to friends with the caption: ‘I’ve laughed so hard.’
For her part in this depravity, Smith was convicted of allowing her daughter’s death and jailed for just eight years. I’m told she has wallpapered her cell at New Hall prison, Wakefield, with pictures of Star, and always speaks of Star as if she is still alive.
Under the early release system, Smith could be free by the age of 24. However, the Attorney General has ordered a review of her sentence, believing it may be too lenient. A relative says this news has left her distraught.
Doubtless she will be even more distressed to learn that Brockhill, as she told me, is planning to appeal her conviction on the premise that it was Smith who, albeit accidentally, delivered the fatal blow.
Collect picture of Savanna Brockhill from Morecambe with Star Hobson
During our two lengthy interviews (for which she, of course, received no payment), she quoted — no doubt selectively — extracts from 4,000 documents which, she claims, could help prove her ‘innocence’. Brockhill’s claims are contradicted by the evidence heard in court, and accepted by judge and jury.
For now, enough of these two wretched women. What of the role played by Bradford’s children’s services department, whose breath-taking incompetence, exacerbated by political correctness as I shall explain, left Star in their clutches.
Alerted to the little girl’s injuries by concerned friends and family members on five occasions between January 23 and September 22, 2020 — when Star was murdered in her mother’s flat — they had ample opportunity to remove her to a place of safety.
An independent review of this case by Bradford Council is imminent, but the woke dogma that informed social workers and other officials’ flawed judgment is laid bare in another damning report, which has been read to me.
It was written after the children’s department were alerted to Star’s maltreatment by her great-grandmother, Anita Smith, and sent a social worker and health visitor to assess Brockhill and Smith.
Not only did they find ‘nothing to concern’ them, but their report commended the ‘positive relationship and the way they care for Star’.
Brockhill was judged to be ‘exceptionally good’ with the baby, who seemed ‘content and happy’.
As for Mrs Smith, who had raised the alarm after seeing photographs of Star’s bruises, she ‘appeared to be struggling with Frankie and Savanna being in a same-sex relationship, and the fact that Frankie has stopped contact between her and Star’, the report said.
The concerns of this caring woman — who had taken Star into her home for ten weeks when her mother couldn’t cope — were dismissed as a ‘malicious referral’. The case was closed without Mrs Smith even being interviewed.
Less than three months later Star was dead.
Frankie Smith with her girlfriend Savanna Brockhill
Social services missed five opportunities to stop Star’s killers in the months before her death on September 22, 2020, a court heard
Members of the Smith family say the children’s services department also failed to properly investigate the case because Brockhill — in her own words — is a gipsy. The Smith family were thought — without justification — to be prejudiced against travellers.
This raises another great irony, for Brockhill and her family are also playing the prejudice card, albeit from an entirely different deck. They contend that the police investigation and murder trial were loaded against her precisely because of her ethnicity, and that this was why she, not Frankie Smith, was deemed to have committed the murder.
Indeed, her father Daniel, 53, claims the prosecution made sure to point out that his daughter was a gipsy from the outset.
Mr Brockhill, who sells horses, pedigree dogs and caravans, and lives with his wife Hollie and the youngest two of his seven children in an impeccable, new-build home in a Lancashire coastal village, told me: ‘If she’d been African, Indian, Chinese, they wouldn’t have been allowed to say that because that would be instantly racist, but it was acceptable to say she was a gipsy from the travelling community.’
However, his claim doesn’t appear to be borne out by the trial transcripts. I can find no mention of Brockhill’s background in the prosecutor’s opening speech. In fact it was Brockhill herself who, when cross-examined by her counsel, described herself as ‘an English gipsy’ and spoke with pride of her heritage.
Star Hobson’s tiny grave is decorated with balloons, bouquets, her toys, and dozens of colourful stars. Standing beside it last week, under slate-grey Pennine skies, I thought of my two-year-old granddaughter, who has just started playschool, and thought of the life this little girl should now be enjoying.
Born in Bradford Royal Infirmary, at 6.56am, on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, Star weighed a healthy 7lb 7oz — and though feeding difficulties kept her in hospital for her first two weeks, she was utterly adorable.
Frankie Smith was not yet 18, immature for her age, and could not rely on the long-term support of the baby’s father, Jordan Hobson, but she seemed as thrilled as any new mother.
‘Frankie called me a few moments after the birth, all excited, and said: ‘I’ve had her!’ ‘ recalls her surrogate grandfather, David Fawcett, the long-term partner of Frankie’s grandmother Anita Smith and one of the few characters to emerge with credit from this saga.
On leaving hospital, Frankie and Star lived with Frankie’s mother, Yvonne Spendley, supported by family members who helped with feeding and changing nappies.
Initially, Frankie called her baby Esme, but after a couple of weeks she renamed her ‘Star’ after a beguiling female vampire in the 1980s spoof-horror film The Lost Boys.
Star’s mother Smith (left) was cleared of murder, but found guilty of causing or allowing the death of a child. Brockhill (right) was convicted by a jury unanimously of murder
We know little about her as a toddler, other than she would charm everyone she met. She loved cuddling up on the sofa to watch Peppa Pig cartoons and liked Weetabix for breakfast.
When Smith sat beside Star in hospital shortly after she died, she also saw fit to remark that she could be ‘a tough one’ who ‘played hard’, and said she had been ‘too soft on her’; comments that medical staff found disturbing.
It seems, from photos and videos, that Star had some good times with the women who tormented her. One picture, taken by Brockhill, shows her playing in the sand on Morecambe beach, wearing a pretty pink dress with a matching bow in her blonde hair.
Such images serve only to make her maltreatment more incomprehensible — as do the many testimonies I heard from Brockhill’s friends and family members whose small children she looked after.
To her older sister Scarlett, 30, whose sons Brockhill looked after, she couldn’t have been a kinder second mum.
Another woman who worked with Brockhill — in the care industry of all places — said she would leave her three children with her, and even entrusted her to be the godmother to her infant daughter.
So, the persistent question: why did Brockhill and Smith turn on Star? According to Frankie Smith’s surrogate grandfather, David Fawcett, nothing in her formative years suggested she would become the ‘cruel and callous’ mother the trial judge described.
Browsing through early pictures of her, at his maisonette in Shipley, West Yorkshire, he portrayed a rather unworldly, late-developing girl.
‘Her childhood was good,’ he told me. ‘She loved old musicals, and we took her to shows like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Jersey Boys. And she was mad on The Rubettes (the 1970s pop band who had a hit with Sugar Baby Love). She was obsessed with the lead singer, Alan Williams, even though he was old enough to be her grandad.’
Star was taken to hospital from the flat where she lived with Smith in Wesley Place, Keighley, but her injuries were ‘utterly catastrophic’ and ‘unsurvivable’, prosecutors said
There is a resonance to this point. For on the day Star was killed, Frankie allegedly told Brockhill she was angry with Star for ripping up a prized souvenir: a Rubettes concert ticket autographed by her idol. Could this trivial act have been the catalyst for the vicious attack?
At the trial, her defence made much of Smith’s low IQ and immaturity. She was still playing with baby dolls until well into her teens, Mr Fawcett recalls.
She didn’t go to pubs like other girls of her age, and didn’t date until she was 16 or 17.
It all sounds innocuous. But, as the conversation draws on, some darker family secrets slip out.
Frankie Smith’s father, Andrew — who died of a drug overdose in June last year — was a heroin addict who spent much of his time locked in his room.
His relationship with his daughter had became increasingly strained until, between the ages of 14 and 16, she went to live with her grandmother Anita and Fawcett.
Frankie’s mother, Yvonne, continued to care for Andrew and her five other children, the youngest of whom is five, in the family home. But after Star was born, Yvonne and Frankie began going out ‘on benders until the early hours’, leaving Star and the other children with babysitters.
If we believe Savanna Brockhill — and that’s a big if — the Smith household was chaotic long before she came on the scene.
The Attorney General previously asked the Court of Appeal to increase Star Hobson’s mother’s ‘unduly lenient’ eight-year jail sentence
Brockhill’s own background could hardly be more different. Born into a huge gipsy clan with prize-fighting (licensed or bare-knuckle) in their blood, her paternal grandfather and the father of World Heavyweight Champion Tyson Fury are said to be cousins.
Her father showed me a picture of Savanna posing with the ‘Gypsy King’ boxer. She and her sister Scarlett are wearing impressive mink coats Mr Brockhill had made for them, each costing £5,000.
Certainly, the Brockhills have done very well for themselves, with a £1.5 million compound in Lancashire replete with luxury caravans and chalets.
‘We are not dossers, people who left their kids to go to the pub,’ Daniel Brockhill says, alluding to Frankie Smith and her mother. ‘We work and pay tax. But our opinions don’t count because we are gipsies.’
They claim some neighbours are prejudiced towards them, but during the long hours I spent with them they were unfailingly courteous.
Like many traditional traveller girls, Savanna Brockhill left school at ten years old to be prepared for life as homemaker. However, she excelled at boxing and martial arts and her father says she was offered a £1,500-a-month grant to train full-time with the British women’s boxing team. Her hopes of Olympic stardom were wrecked by a car accident aged 19 that damaged her spine.
By then she had already confessed her sexual preference for women — a huge taboo in the gipsy community — to her father. He came to accept it, but her older brothers only found out during the murder trial.
Until her mid-20s, Brockhill worked as a home carer, boosting her pay by shifting as a pub bouncer and later training as a security dog-handler.
She also bred Staffordshire terriers, and her father reckons she could clear £8,000 a month.
No one I spoke to admitted witnessing the uncontrollable temper described in court; an anger so explosive that, five years ago, she was said to have consulted a doctor about it.
Her only previous conviction was for hurling an egg at a neighbour with whom she argued, her sister says.
However, from social media I have uncovered a chilling video — filmed, as so often, by Brockhill herself — that reveals how she can snap when rage consumes her.
Holding her phone aloft, she hurls frenzied threats and expletives at a group who have just attacked her then-girlfriend. Brockhill seems oblivious to the police officers called to her house and visible in the footage.
The loathing between Savanna Brockhill and Frankie Smith today is deep-rooted, as both seek to blame the other for Star’s death.
By Brockhill’s account, Smith was an unstable fantasist. At first she even claimed Star was her younger sister.
No appeal was made against the sentence of Frankie Smith’s girlfriend Savannah Brockhill, who will spend at least 25 years behind bars for murder
‘The relationship was really on-off,’ she tells me from prison. ‘She was a really bad drinker. I always said she was a schizophrenic. One moment she could be all right, then suddenly she’d go off on one, for nothing.’
Smith’s moods changed according to her hairstyle, Brockhill adds. ‘If her hair was tied up, she’d be OK, but if she pulled it down to the sides of her face, she would be completely different. Her family say this started after Star was born.’
She also scoffs at the claim that Smith had a low IQ, saying she ‘excelled’ at maths and English, and was far cleverer than her (again, this is contrary to the evidence heard in court).
Smith would tell people they were married, she says, and that Star was their baby. She even entered Brockhill’s name under the ‘father’ slot in her birth book and had the name ‘Savanna’ tattooed on her forearm.
The Brockhill family imply all this proves it was Smith who was truly obsessed.
Mr Fawcett, the partner of Frankie’s grandmother, paints an opposing picture, saying Brockhill was so possessive of Frankie that she used Star as a means to control her, and took her jealousy out on the baby.
And indeed from my investigation, this is the version that rings true. Within weeks of Brockhill’s arrival in her life, Smith was talking like a gipsy — using words such as ‘mam’ and ‘baba’ — and dressing Star as a traveller child. But gradually things grew more sinister.
Determined to stop Star using dummies, David Fawcett says, one day Brockhill seized all six of her comforters and bit the ends off them. When people began to admire Star’s blonde curls, Brockhill took the toddler to a barber and brought her home with short back and sides.
Meanwhile, the punishment sessions had started. Right and wrong are alien concepts to children a few months old, but if Star was perceived to have misbehaved, she would hear the shout: ‘Get over there and face that wall — now!’
Mr Fawcett says Smith’s younger siblings would describe Brockhill grabbing Star roughly and ‘slam-choking’ her — a wrestling technique where an opponent is grabbed by the throat and hurled to the canvas.
TIMELINE OF STAR HOBSON’S SHORT LIFE
Star Hobson was only 16-months-old when she was killed at her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire. Here are some of the key events in her short life:
May 21 – Star Hobson is born
November – Savannah Brockhill and Frankie Smith begin a relationship.
January 23 – Smith’s friend Holly Jones makes the first contact with social services over concerns about domestic violence and how much time she is left looking after Star. Police and social workers visit Star but no concerns are raised.
Early February – Star goes to live with her great-grandparents, David Fawcett and Anita Smith at their home in Baildon, Bradford, after Smith says she has split up with Brockhill.
April 26 – Star is removed from Anita Smith’s house by her mother and taken to live with Smith and Brockhill.
May 4 – Anita Smith contacts social services after she is told about Brockhill ‘slam-choking’ Star.
June – David Fawcett posts a picture of Star with bruises on Facebook alongside a happier shot and with the caption ‘From this to this in five weeks, what’s going on Frankie?’
June 21 – Star’s father, Jordan Hobson, contacts social services. Police take Star for a hospital examination. Smith says her daughter had hit her face on a coffee table.
June 23 – Another friend of the Smith family contacts social services with concerns.
August 14 – David Fawcett and Anita Smith see Frankie and Star for the last time.
August 28 – David Fawcett is sent a video of Star with bruises and confronts Brockhill.
September 2 – Another of Star’s great-grandfathers, Frank Smith, contacts social services after seeing video of bruises on the youngster’s face. Social workers make an unannounced visit.
September 15 – Social services closes the case after concluding the referral to be ‘malicious’.
September 22 – Star is seriously injured at the flat in Wesley Place, Keighley, and dies later in hospital.
December 14 – Following a trial at Bradford Crown Court Brockhill is convicted of Star’s murder while Smith is convicted of causing or allowing the toddler’s death.
So why wasn’t Brockhill told to pack her bags?
The family were terrified of her, he claims, particularly Frankie, whose own bruises proved what her girlfriend was capable of. Added to which, Frankie was hard up and Brockhill would pay for their meals and drinks and buy Star expensive clothes.
It was left to a courageous and responsible young babysitter, Hollie Jones, then just 16, to make the first referral to social services about Star. This was on January 23, 2020. The police reportedly visited the house but raised no concerns. When social workers called three days later, Smith was not at home.
By now you might wonder why Star’s father, Jordan Hobson, didn’t intervene. Though he was present at Star’s birth and stayed with mother and baby for the first few months, he and Smith (who had only been together a short time before she became pregnant) soon parted.
He returned to his course at Sunderland University and only saw his daughter on a handful of occasions. Back at college, Hobson’s own violent temper — which, in yet one more irony, had been flagged up as a risk to Star by the social services — came to the fore.
He attacked his new girlfriend with a mop and bucket, an offence that earned him an 18-month community order.
The girl in question, who asked not to be named, told us what she knew of Star’s absentee father.
‘Jordan told me that the relationship [with Frankie Smith] had split up because he slept with one of her friends, and it was clear that the relationship was volatile between them,’ she said. ‘It didn’t seem to me that Jordan had any serious concerns about the way Star was being looked after.’
In fairness, Hobson, now in his early 20s, did eventually alert social services after seeing a picture of Star’s bruised face posted on Facebook. This was the third such referral.
However, Smith and Brockhill claimed she had bumped herself, and when the police took her to be examined at Bradford Royal Infirmary, the doctor — who had just four months’ experience in child safety — decided this was a reasonable explanation for her injuries.
And so, Star’s unspeakable suffering went on, broken only for those ten merciful weeks, between February and April 2020, when Smith — embroiled in another self-absorbed drama with her girlfriend — entrusted Star to the care of her grandmother Anita Smith and her partner, David Fawcett. There, the little girl briefly flourished.
We will never know exactly what happened on the afternoon of September 22, 2020, when Brockhill — having bizarrely just ordered a £750 diamond signet ring for Star’s first Christmas present — stopped off at Smith’s rented second-floor flat, accompanied by an infant nephew and niece.
If she secures her appeal, it will be Brockhill’s contention that it was Smith who kicked out at Star to stop her following her to the bathroom and caught her in the stomach — a scenario that surely doesn’t begin to explain her catastrophic injuries.
Supposing that were true, I ask, why didn’t she say so in court? ‘Love? Loyalty?’ ventures Savanna Brockhill’s father, who can hardly be blamed for wanting to be persuaded of his daughter’s innocence.
Brockhill offers a more prosaic explanation, saying her lawyers warned her against blaming Smith for fear that she’d be accused of lying to get herself off the hook.
‘I loved her to bits, but in the end it was more for Star [that she stayed with Smith],’ she tells me. ‘I loved Star, the more so because she was born on my mother’s birthday, the 21st of May. She had the bluest eyes you’ve ever seen, and she just wanted to play.
‘I learned [sic] her Round And Round The Garden, and she’d put her hand out and just want to do it. She’d fall asleep holding my fingers. She was always clinging to me.’
Casting my mind back to my visit to that tiny grave, it is difficult to listen to this self-serving woman without venting one’s disgust.
For baby Star, whose innocence was betrayed on so many levels, the forthcoming case review is of no consequence. But if any good can come from this sorry story, it is that political correctness is never again allowed to take precedence over a little girl’s life.