A six-year-old boy who was allegedly tortured and killed by his own father and stepmother cried 'nobody loves me' after the latter allegedly pushed him against a wall and called him 'ugly', a court has heard.
Little Arthur Labinjo-Hughes was allegedly killed after suffering systemic abuse which matched the 'medical definition of child torture', including being deprived of food, made to stand for 14 hours a day and poisoned with salt before being fatally attacked.
His father Thomas Hughes, 29, and stepmother Emma Tustin, 32, deny murdering Arthur at their home near Solihull, West Midlands, in June 2020. They also pleaded not guilty multiple counts of child cruelty.
A trial at Coventry Crown Court today heard how Arthur sobbed 'nobody loves me' to his uncle after allegedly being attacked by his stepmother in April 2020 - just two months before he collapsed with fatal brain injuries.
Blake Hughes, Thomas Hughes’s brother, said the youngster broke out in tears at his grandmother’s home after claiming that Tustin had grabbed his cheeks, pushed him against a wall and branded him 'ugly'.
Arthur had been in the full-time care of Hughes after his mother, Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, was convicted over the killing her new partner, Gary Cunningham, in February 2019.
His uncle told the jury: 'She said his mum didn’t love him and had abandoned him. He then started to break out crying.
'We spoke and I said his mum didn’t abandon him. She did something and had to go away but she still loves him. And that lots of people love him.
'He went on to say nobody loved him.
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, six, was allegedly killed after suffering systemic abuse which matched the 'medical definition of child torture'. His father Thomas Hughes, 29, and stepmother Emma Tustin, 32, deny murder and child abuse
'I tried cheering him up and when he did go to sleep he seemed okay. Like he’d be alright in the morning.'
Mr Hughes, who said his relationship with Arthur was 'more like brothers', said he quizzed Hughes about the bruises on the boy’s shoulders.
He said his brother described a row between the couple where she locked him in the house and called her ex-boyfriend around.
He said: 'He [Hughes] described what he thought happened. They were arguing, Emma and Tom, her son charged at Arthur with an umbrella and started hitting him with the umbrella and tried to gouge his eyes. He got involved.
'He tried to go over and step in. She [Tustin] pushed him back. He pushed her out the way and got in the middle and she started screaming "you just hit my son".
'She rang their father. Locked the door. Tom didn't have a key. She locked him in until he got there, until the father got there.'
The court was told that Hughes and Arthur stayed at Tustin’s home after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered the nation to stay at home at the beginning of the Covid pandemic.
With Arthur already asleep in bed after the Prime Minister plunged the nation into lockdown, Hughes sent a message to his mother: 'I guess we are where we are'.
The jury was also told that Hughes and Tustin had announced their engagement on Facebook weeks before Arthur’s death.
Arthur's paternal grandmother, Joanne Hughes, also noticed bruises on the boy's shoulders after visiting the family home in April and reported it to social services that same day.
Earlier the trial heard how teachers had also expressed worries about Arthur's welfare but social services told them they had 'no concerns'.
Tustin (pictured) and Hughes are said to have subjected Arthur to systematic cruelty 'designed to torture' the youngster
On a visit to her home, Mrs Hughes told how Arthur confided that Tustin had also banged his head and called him a 'horrible little brat'.
She took photographs of the injuries to the boy's shoulders before telling social services that she was 'concerned' for her grandson.
But the secondary school teacher told jurors: 'They did not want to see them. I did offer but they did not want to see them.
'They asked me if I would be willing to have Arthur at our house and I said ''of course''. I asked several questions of them to clarify certain points and then they said that they would get back to me.
'They asked if I wanted to remain anonymous to which I said no, and they said they would get back to me.
'I asked if I would be told the outcome and was told ''yes''. I asked the same question [the following day] and was told 'no, because you're just a grandparent'.'
Mrs Hughes told how she lifted Arthur's Liverpool FC top to discover the bruising, shortly after he had complained of being assaulted by Tustin.
She said: 'We were in the garden and Arthur was playing with the next door neighbour; he held his head.
'And I said 'have you bumped your head?'. He said to me 'that's where Emma grabbed me and pushed my head on the stairs'.
'I asked him to repeat it and he told me that she called him a horrible little brat and she pushed his head and he bumped it on the stairs.'
Hughes denied Tustin had injured Arthur, and claimed her three-year-old son had attacked Arthur with an umbrella, Mrs Hughes said.
Giving evidence, she said she did not accept the explanation and asked her son to leave Arthur with her and her husband, Christopher.
She said: 'He said "no, he's my son, He will be looked after fine, no one is going to hurt him".
'I said "that's fine but if that's your final answer I will phone social services".'
Mrs Hughes told how she felt there was 'nowhere else to turn' after reporting her grandson's injuries to social services.
She said she believed police had also been informed that Arthur had disclosed being grabbed and pushed by Tustin.
Arthur collapsed with 'unsurvivable brain injuries' on Tuesday, June 16, and died the following day at Birmingham children's hospital
Asked why she did not tell Arthur's school that Tustin had assaulted her grandson when she informed them she had involved social services, Mrs Hughes said: 'When I contacted the school, social services had not got back to me.
'They said they would only contact me if there was a concern. As they hadn't contacted me I took it that there was no concern.
'My son Daniel had been in contact with police and was told that he would be gotten back to on the same evening.
'But he was told if the policeman's sergeant did not want to take it any further there was nowhere else left to go.
'I did not tell the school because two services I had reported it to had deemed it there was nothing to answer.'
She added: 'I was phoning to get Arthur back to school so he could be seen. So I've got nowhere else to turn, I'd been to authorities that I thought would help, as had my son.
'And it was my last port of call.'
Mrs Hughes added that she subsequently tried to contact Hughes but was sent a text from his phone threatening to have her 'arrested for harassment and breaking Covid rules'.
Arthur had been in the full-time care of Hughes after Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow was accused of killing her new partner, Gary Cunningham, in February 2019.
She was subsequently convicted and jailed, the court heard. Mrs Hughes described her as 'the love of [Hughes'] life'.
But she said her son had fallen 'hook, line and sinker' for Tustin, whom she accused of controlling her son.
Asked if it was correct that Tustin would send Hughes out late at night to get onion ring crisps, and send him back out if they were the wrong brand, Mrs Hughes replied: 'Correct.'
In cross-examination, she agreed that her son was criticised by Tustin for 'weak parenting'.
Mrs Hughes told the jury: 'I had every confidence that my son was a good parent.
But she added: 'He seemed to get less confident. He was not confident anyway. The joyfulness went out of him. He seemed browbeaten.'
Hughes (left) is accused of forcing his son to endure 'physical and psychological' abuse in the weeks before his death
Prosecutors allege Arthur was subjected to months of cruelty by Hughes and Tustin which matched the 'medical definition of child torture'.
They are both alleged to have neglected and abused Arthur, including by poisoning him with salt.
The court heard how Arthur spent hours 'segregated and isolated' in a hallway at Tustin's home, and was made to sleep on a living room floor.
Prior to moving to the address during the first pandemic lockdown, Hughes and Arthur were living in an annex at Mrs Hughes's home.
Mother-of-two Tustin began visiting frequently after striking up a relationship online with Hughes in late 2019, the court heard.
Mrs Hughes told jurors that on one occasion she saw Tustin bring over a pink chair that her son described as the 'naughty chair'.
She told jurors that after alerting social services on April 16, 2020, she then found a piece of paper in the annex titled 'chair rules'.
Underneath it read 'rude to mummy bear/dad - one hour each', 'poor attitude - 20 minutes', 'naughty - 40 minutes', 'talking like a baby - 10 minutes', 'weeing on toilet seat - 10 minutes'.
The document, shown to jurors on a screen, listed 'additional time' for crying on the chair.
Tustin's barrister Mary Prior, QC, said her client had used the pink chair with her own children and had referred to it as a 'thinking chair'.
Mrs Hughes said she thought the use of the chair was 'cruel'.
Arthur collapsed on Tuesday June 16, and died the following day at Birmingham children's hospital.
Prosecutors allege Tustin murdered the youngster and that Hughes 'intentionally encouraged' the killing.
Mrs Hughes said she saw a decline in Arthur in 2020, describing him previously as being a 'happy child - a joy'. She said her dislike of Tustin 'grew and grew'.
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes (pictured above with his father), six, was found with dozens of bruises from his head to his feet, post-mortem examinations showed
Social services told Arthur's teachers they had 'no concerns' about his well-being, the jury was told this week.
Teacher Michelle Hull, a safeguarding lead at Dickens Heath primary school, said she was alerted to Mrs Hughes's social services referral.
Describing what social services told her when she made enquiries over the referral, Ms Hull told the court: 'They said they'd seen Arthur and that the injuries were from boisterous play. That the family relationship seemed OK. And they had no concerns.'
She added that social services told her she 'wasn't allowed to share any information with Arthur's grandmother because [parental] consent hadn't been given'.
In a 999 call made 12 minutes after Arthur was found unresponsive, Tustin claimed his head injuries were self-inflicted. She claimed he had 'banged his head while on the floor on all fours'.
Tustin has pleaded guilty to one count of child cruelty but denies further charges of the same offence. Hughes denies all charges.
Jurors heard text messages between Hughes and Tustin talking of alleged abuse.
In one message, Hughes threatened to 'take his jaw off his shoulders' and told Tustin: 'Just gag him or something. Tie some rope around his mouth with a sock in it or something.'
Opening the trial, Jonas Hankin, QC, told jurors: 'Both defendants participated in a campaign of cruelty intended to cause Arthur significant harm and suffering.
'Violence and intimidation, both physical and verbal, were routine.
'Arthur's visible injuries, his miserable physical condition and obvious despair provided each defendant with a daily reminder of the lengths to which the other would go to cause him harm.'
The trial continues.