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'Wicked and evil': Father and step-mother guilty of killing Arthur Labinjo-Hughes

A father and step-mother who subjected his six-year-old son to months of abuse, starvation and poisoning have been convicted of killing him during lockdown.  

Emma Tustin, 32, was found guilty of the “wicked and evil” murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, while his father, Thomas Hughes, was convicted of his manslaughter.

The little boy died on June 16 2020 after suffering an “unsurvivable brain injury” while at Tustin’s home in Solihull, West Midlands.

The role of social services and the police will now be in the spotlight, after it emerged that Arthur's grandparents and uncles tried to raise the alarm but had their concerns dismissed.

On another occasion, he duped the child into thinking he was going to see his beloved grandparents, before turning around.

In the weeks before his death, they stepped up their campaign of cruelty and began poisoning him with salt.

A medical expert who assessed sodium results in the little boy's blood on his admission to hospital found 34mg - a level so high it was off the "normal scale".

Arthur was so emaciated when he eventually collapsed that medics attempting to revive him noted that they could see his ribs through his skin.

Tustin, who was pregnant with Hughes' baby, carried out the fatal assault while in sole care of Arthur.

After attacking him, she callously took a photograph of the youngster on her mobile phone as he lay dying in the hallway, and sent the image to Hughes.

She then took 12 minutes to call 999 - instead first ringing Hughes, then lying to medics that the six-year-old had fallen and banged his head six times on the floor.

Lockdown meant cruelty towards Arthur Labinjo-Hughes was not spotted

Up until he was four years old, Arthur was cared for by his mother, Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow.

But Hughes was granted sole custody of him in February 2019, when she was charged with stabbing her boyfriend to death in a drink and drug-fuelled binge.

After initially living at his grandparents' home, where he was cherished by the whole family, Arthur was taken to live at Tustin's home by his father at the start of lockdown in March 2020.

Concerns were raised about Arthur by his grandmother, Joanne Hughes.

When social services contacted Hughes to arrange to see Arthur, his father initially suggested meeting in a Screwfix car park, but then agreed to a home visit.

Jayne Kavanagh, a social worker, then carried out a "threshold" assessment visit along with Angela Scarlett-Coppage, a family support worker.

Ms Kavanagh said during the visit to Tustin's home that she saw "a small faint bruise" which was "like a yellowish colour" and was "difficult to see".

But after being shown a photograph showing extensive, deep purple-coloured bruising to the shoulder area taken on April 16, Ms Kavanagh said she was left "really confused".

The school closures caused by the lockdown also meant the cruelty being suffered by Arthur every day was not spotted by his teachers.

When they were charged with murder, Hughes and Tustin turned on one another - with him claiming he had been "manipulated", "mentally abused" and "gaslighted" by his girlfriend.

Despite the weight of evidence, Tustin simply refused to accept the full extent of her offending, insisting Arthur had died after accidentally falling and banging his head repeatedly on the floor.

The jury, who deliberated for just over a day, rejected their defences and found Hughes guilty of manslaughter and Tustin guilty of murder.

They will be sentenced in January.

When Arthur died, he had more than 130 areas of bruising on his body, was malnourished and had salt levels in the system that medics described as "off the scale".

But when social workers examined him just weeks before his death, they reported that there were no concerns and concluded any bruising was the result of "play fighting" with Tustin's other children.

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes' death a 'terrible tragedy'

A Solihull Council spokesman said: “This terrible tragedy has had a shocking impact on Arthur’s family and across the whole community. We send our heartfelt condolences to everyone affected.

“The circumstances around his death will now be subject to an independent review - the Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review - and clearly it would be inappropriate for the council to comment ahead of the findings of that review.”

West Midlands Police, who visited Arthur eight weeks before he died, reported that he appeared "safe and well", despite receiving photographs from his uncle showing his numerous injuries.

The police watchdog said it had carried out an investigation into the force's handling of the case and would report in due course.

Joanne Hughes, Arthur's grandmother, told the trial how she felt there was "no one else to go to" after repeatedly raising her concerns with the authorities.

His uncle, Daniel, was even threatened with arrest over lockdown rules if he went back to the youngster's house to check up on him.

The NSPCC said the pair's convictions "must be just the start of the process to uncover the full chain of events that ultimately led to Arthur’s death and to establish the lessons that need to be learned to prevent this awful case from happening again".

Boy pleaded: 'Please help me'

Jurors sat through eight weeks of harrowing evidence that charted the cruelty Hughes and Tustin meted out to the little boy in the final months of his life.

This included denying him food and water, making him sleep on the living room floor and forcing him to stand for hours in isolation.

He was ritually insulted and subjected to foul-mouthed diatribes by the very people who were supposed to be caring for him.

Tustin used her mobile phone to record hundreds of clips of the little boy being abused, mocked and physically attacked.

In one heartbreaking audio message, Arthur could be heard pleading for his uncle Blake, to whom he was denied access.

He could be heard saying: "Please help me, help me uncle Blake, they're not feeding me. I need some food and drink."

Hughes removed his son's favourite teddy bear and cut up his prized Birmingham City football shirts in front of him.