A BOY of six was tortured and beaten to death by his cruel dad and stepmum in a horrific echo of the Baby P case.
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes was also poisoned with a huge dose of salt in a sadistic campaign by Thomas Hughes and Emma Tustin.
The lad died after being found with 130 areas of injury at Tustin’s house near Solihull, West Mids, during lockdown last year.
Tustin faces life in jail after being convicted of murder and Hughes of manslaughter yesterday at Coventry crown court, which heard that four warnings of abuse to police and social services went unheeded.
Safeguarding experts said little had been learned since the failures over Baby P’s death in 2007.
One said: “Nothing has changed.”
Yesterday a jury heard Thomas Hughes and Emma Tustin took advantage of lockdown last year to abuse Arthur “with impunity” and fool social workers and teachers.
Police even threatened to arrest Arthur’s uncle Daniel Hughes after he tried to raise the alarm
Thomas Hughes, 29, and Tustin, 32, imprisoned Arthur in a hallway for 14 hours a day — forcing him to wear a fluffy onesie for days during a baking heatwave.
They restricted his food and water while they tucked into takeaways and ice creams.
Their unrelenting abuse, much of it captured on the family’s home CCTV system, carried on for weeks before Arthur was battered to death in a fit of rage by Tustin on June 16 last year.
She shook the lad before slamming his head with such force it caused unsurvivable brain bleeds.
Arthur was found with 130 areas of injury at Tustin’s council semi near Solihull, West Mids — and with so much salt in his body that medics thought their machinery had broken.
Tustin was found guilty of murder and Hughes of manslaughter at Coventry crown court.
They blamed each other for Arthur’s horrific ordeal.
Tustin faces a life term when sentenced today.
Social services received warnings from the boy’s grandmother and stepfather.
And uncle Daniel was also told by police he would be arrested for breaching lockdown rules by going to Tustin’s house.
Daniel even sent over photos of bruising — only for West Midlands Police to shut down a case log.
Daniel told jurors an officer “reluctantly received the photos and said he would speak to his sergeant and get back to me. He never did.”
Hughes’ mum Joanne lifted up Arthur’s shirt to photograph nasty bruises to his shoulder and back.
In April last year Arthur’s gran Joanne Hughes took photos of his injured shoulders and told social services of her concerns.
But Mrs Hughes, a secondary school teacher, told jurors: “They did not want to see the photos.”
Solihull Council’s children’s services team went round to the house the following day.
SOCIAL WORKERS FAILED
But social workers failed to spot the bruises despite the images taken just 25 hours earlier.
An expert later told the court it would have taken at least three days for the bruises to fade.
A Serious Case Review has now been launched into the shortcomings.
West Midlands Police is being probed by the watchdog over the incident involving Daniel.
The seven-week trial heard how Liverpool fan Arthur was pummeled into a “desperately sad, thin, weak, miserable child”.
Less than a year earlier, before Hughes met Tustin on a dating website Plenty of Fish, he was just like any other five-year-old boy; active, energetic and with a love for football and cricket.
He had gone to live with his dad after his mum, Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, was arrested over the killing of her boyfriend Gary Cunningham in February 2019.
The jury was told Tustin hated Arthur and saw him as an obstacle in the relationship.
Yet she showered her two children with affection.
Tustin recorded more than 22 pictures and videos plus 200 audio files of Arthur in distress, and even photographed him as he lay dying.
Arthur was so scared of Hughes that in one audio clip played in court, he screamed: “Daddy’s going to kill me.”
In police tapes Hughes admitted Arthur had once told him: “I’m in danger with you.”
The sickening abuse was laid bare in hundreds of text messages sent between the pair in the weeks prior to his death.
Tustin branded Arthur “Satan” and “Hitler”.
In a message sent just 18 hours before Arthur collapsed at Tustin’s hands, Hughes raged: “Just gag him or something. Just end him.”
Arthur died while home alone with Tustin on June 16, 2020.
She battered him and left him lifeless but was more concerned with sending texts to arrange her birthday than ringing 999.
It took 12 minutes before she called medics. In the meantime, Hughes’s attempts to revive Arthur including hitting him on the head and pouring cola into his mouth.
Tustin claimed that Arthur had knocked himself out by headbutting the floor.
But experts told jurors such injuries were “inconceivable”.
She also told a cop that Arthur had been “lashing out” and “we’ve had s*** off him for six months”.
A post mortem found Arthur had devastating brain injuries.
Bruises covered his body, with an A&E consultant telling her team on Arthur’s arrival to hospital: “We need to crack on but I think this child has been harmed.”
The court heard that social services also received an anonymous call from Tustin’s stepdad John Dutton weeks before the murder.
John Dutton said Hughes had confessed “going to town” on Arthur. He told jurors: “I thought he was in danger.”
Social services also told Arthur’s teachers they had “no concerns” about his well-being and that any injuries were from “boisterous play”.
But staff at Dickens Heath primary school were also caught out by Hughes’ deception during lockdown.
In welfare checks, he told teachers that Arthur was “doing grand”.
Det Insp Laura Harrison, who led the investigation, told the trial: “The professionals who would ordinarily have been involved in Arthur’s life, such as teachers, weren’t having that contact with him and spotting changes in his behaviour or bruises on his body.
“And when social workers went out to Tustin’s home there was an absolute manipulation of them by the defendants.
“They painted a very different picture of what was really going on.”
Appalling abuse for 8 months
Feb 2019: Arthur’s mum Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow is accused of killing her new partner — leaving the boy in the care of dad Hughes.
August 2019: Hughes meets Tustin, a mum of four, on dating website Plenty of Fish.
Nov 2019-Feb 2020: Tustin moves into an annexe at the Hughes family home. They buy a pink ‘thinking chair’ for Arthur with a list of punishments for bad behaviour. Being naughty gets 40 minutes. On New Year’s Eve, the couple get engaged.
MARCH 2020: Boris Johnson announces lockdown. Hughes and Arthur move into Tustin’s council house in Shirley.
April 2020: Arthur referred to social services after his gran spots bruises. Social workers visit the family home but have “no safeguarding concerns”. Police told of bruising but a log is shut down. Hughes tells teachers that his son had been “enjoying the garden” and “decorating his room”.
May 2020: Arthur spends every day stood up in a hallway and puts himself to bed on a duvet on the living room floor. Hughes steps up his attacks on the boy; Tustin says she has “given up on Arthur”. Tustin’s stepdad makes anonymous call to social services.
June 2020: School reopens but Arthur is kept off “because staff would see bruises”. Hughes tells reception that Arthur is anxious about going back. He is deprived of food and water.
June 15: Tustin takes Arthur to a hairdressing appointment where he his ordered to face a door. A witness describes him as “too weak” to even hold a glass of water to his mouth.
June 16 2020: Arthur collapses with “unsurvivable brain injuries” while with Tustin. No ambulance is called for 12 minutes.
June 17 2020: Arthur’s life support is switched off.
Outside court, Arthur’s maternal grandmother, Madeleine Halcrow, said Tustin and Hughes’ cruelty had been “unfathomable.”
She said: "I think they are cold, calculating, systematic torturers of a defenceless little boy. They’re wicked, evil.”
Child safeguarding expert Gerald Hannah said “nothing has changed” since Baby P.
He added: “It has got worse because the local authorities have been given more autonomy.
“The main problem is statutory reporting, which has been made compulsory since tragic cases like Baby P and Daniel Pelka.
“This means that everybody has to report every single allegation, no matter how trivial.
“That has given an overload of information and accusations which have flooded the system.
“This makes the already difficult job of social services impossible.
“It has become difficult to identify which are the genuine cases or not.”
130 bruises on body
TRAGIC Arthur Labinjo-Hughes had 130 bruises on his body — one for every day that he was in lockdown.
His dad and stepmum were able to keep him at home during the worst of their abuse from April 2020 while schools were shut.
And it meant teachers never had to chance to notice his injuries and catastrophic weight loss.
Staff at Dickens Heath primary were also caught out by Hughes’ deception — lying about his son in welfare checks over the phone.
Det Insp Laura Harrison, of West Midlands Police, said “The lockdown meant professionals didn’t have the opportunity to monitor him in the same way they would do with children normally.
“I do think that lockdown contributed.”
“The professionals who would ordinarily have been involved in Arthur’s life, such as teachers, weren’t having that contact with him and spotting changes in his behaviour or bruises on his body.”
There are fears that thousands of vulnerable children may have suffered worse abuse during the two major Covid shutdowns since March 2020.
Last year, England’s chief inspector of schools Amanda Spielman warned teachers might not have picked up early warning signs of abuse or neglect while many pupils were out of school.
Referrals to children’s social care teams were also down by a fifth in 2020.
Reminder of Baby P
PETER Connelly, called Baby P in court, was 17 months old when he died.
He suffered more than 50 injuries while being monitored by social services, who missed warning signs.
Peter was repeatedly admitted to hospital before he died.
His mother Tracey, her boyfriend Steven Barker, and his brother Jason Owen were convicted of causing or allowing a child’s death.
The child protection services of Haringey Council, North London, were widely criticised.
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