The heartbreaking case of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes has sent shockwaves through the nation as questions are asked around how authorities missed such abuse.
Arthur’s stepmother, 32-year-old Emma Tustin, was sentenced to life in prison on Friday after the schoolboy was left with an unsurvivable brain injury as she beat him, poisoned him with salt and withheld food from him while he was in her sole care.
Arthur’s father Thomas Hughes, 29, was found guilty of manslaughter and jailed for 21 years after “encouraging” violence towards his son, whose body was found covered in 130 bruises when he died in hospital.
How did the abuse begin?
Arthur originally lived with his mother Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow after she and Hughes split not long after Arthur’s second birthday. She was imprisoned for killing her abusive partner in 2019, leaving Arthur in the sole care of his father.
Not long after taking sole care of Arthur, Hughes met Tustin on a dating site and they made the decision in March 2020 to merge their families in Tustin’s home in Solihull, Birmingham where she lived with her own children aged four and five.
With the nation in lockdown, the situation quickly deteriorated and by April 2020, social services and police had paid a visit after referrals from his concerned grandmother, Joanne Hughes, and an anonymous tip off from Tustin's own parents.
Mrs Hughes spotted extensive bruising on her grandson’s back. Arthur told her Tustin had slammed him into the stairs, calling him an “ugly, horrible brat”.
The authorities, however, said there was no cause for concern.
His maternal grandmother, Madeleine Halcrow, said Hughes had stopped her from seeing Arthur since 2019.
The cruelty and abuse toward Arthur was concealed by Tustin and Hughes, often blaming bruises on incidents of play or Arthur injuring himself in tantrums.
For up to 14 hours a day, Arthur would stand alone in the hallways of the home deprived of food, drink and affection. He would stand there alone while his father enjoyed treats with Tustin and her own children.
Arthur’s behaviour was monitored on CCTV set up in the home where he is heard heard begging in tears, “I want you to feed me, no one's going to feed me” and crying “no one loves me.”
Arthur in the care of ‘evil’ couple
By the time he died on 16 June, experts said Arthur’s injuries - including 130 bruises - met the medical definition of torture.
Towards the day of his death, Arthur was reported to be looking malnourished, gaunt and frail. He had been forced to stand in the hallway and beaten if he attempted to sit down.
Shortly after 1pm on 16 June 2020, Hughes took Tustin’s children to the supermarket leaving Arthur in mortal danger. Tustin forced him to drink a salt mixture which poisoned the six-year-old leaving him unconscious.
Tustin had inflicted a catastrophic brain injury by shaking him and repeatedly slamming his head into a hard surface. She did nothing to save Arthur, the camera in the living room captured him slumped on the floor.
He had consumed at least six-and-a-half teaspoons of salt the day he was fatally injured.
Arthur’s case should have been ‘top priority’
In court Tustin and Hughes tried to deflect blame, describing the six-year-old as the aggressor in the home and said Arthur’s injuries were inflicted “by his own actions.”
In her victim impact statement, which she read in court ahead of the sentencing, Arthur’s paternal grandmother, Ms Hughes said he, was a “happy, contented, thriving” boy, who would “be alive today” had her son not met Tustin.
Hughes’ “infatuation” for Tustin had “obliterated” any love for his son, the sentencing judge said.
As the sentencing began on Friday, Mr Justice Mark Wall QC said Tustin had been brought to court for her sentencing but had “refused to come up” to the dock.
Solihull’s Local Child Safeguarding Partnership launched an independent review after it emerged in court that the boy had been seen by social workers just two months before his death, but they concluded there were “no safeguarding concerns”.
Prime minister Boris Johnson on Friday said ministers will leave “absolutely no stone unturned” to establish what went wrong in the “appalling” case.