Social workers, police and teachers are facing damning questions after a six-year-old boy’s stepmother was found guilty of his murder
and his father convicted of manslaughter – after the pair tortured, starved and beat him to death.
Emma Tustin, 32, killed Arthur Labinjo-Hughes by repeatedly slamming his head on a hard surface after she and 29-year-old Thomas Hughes starved the youngster and force-fed him food laden with salt.
After killing Arthur, Tustin immediately fetched her mobile phone to take a photograph of him as he lay dying in the hallway to send to her boyfriend.
She called 999 and told the operator Arthur had ‘banged his head’.
After police arrived at her home, the self-pitying stepmother cried and tried to convince them the stick-thin boy had attacked her – while several miles away he lay dying in hospital.
He passed away the next day when his life support was turned off, with medics deciding there was nothing they could do due to the catastrophic nature of his injuries.
MailOnline can now reveal the shocking list of failings by the authorities at every stage of Arthur’s life, including allowing him to live with his father when his real mother was convicted of stabbing her lover – a decision that would have been made by a family court.
With seemingly little oversight from social services, he then moved him into the house of a woman he had just met despite her previously having two children taken away from her.
In the months of lockdown while Arthur was being abused, social workers and police missed four opportunities to save him, brushed away pleas from his family and even threatened them with arrest under Covid rules.
Arthur’s grandmother, Joanne Hughes, called social services on April 16 to say she had seen the youngster covered in bruises. However, two social workers failed to spot them during a visit to his home.
On April 20, Joanne also told Arthur’s school what she had seen. A member of staff called social services but was told the bruises had been caused by ‘play’.
Arthur’s uncle, Daniel Hughes, then reported his concerns to police but was threatened with arrest if he attempted to go back to the youngster’s home.
Lastly, John Dutton, Emma Tustin’s stepfather, made an anonymous call to social services weeks before Arthur’s death.
Asked why he made the referral – which he chose to keep anonymous – Mr Dutton said: ‘I thought he was in danger.’
Yesterday, his maternal grandmother Madeleine Halcrow told MailOnline: ‘Arthur was let down by social services and the West Midlands Police. There was an opportunity to save him and it wasn’t taken.’
Miss Halcrow said the little boy loved nothing more than to play outside. But he was forced to wear a fluffy onesie for days during a baking heatwave and stand isolated in a hallway for 15 hours a day over six weeks in a ‘punishing regime’.
Arthur, who ‘loved his food’ and looked forward to mealtimes, was starved and forced to drink a lethal ‘salt slurry’ before he died. CCTV caught the bullies yelling at Arthur, out of sight in the hallway, as they tucked into fish and chips and McDonald’s with Tustin’s children.
The pair ‘denigrated, debased and dehumanised him’, taking everything he loved away from him as they turned Arthur into a ‘desperately sad, thin, weak, miserable child’.
Harrowing footage taken in Arthur’s final hours showed the youngster grimacing in pain with his emaciated frame showing through his tattered pyjamas as he shouted ‘no one loves me’ four times then ‘no one is going to feed me’ seven times in 44 seconds.
One of his twisted punishments even saw Hughes cut up the boy’s favourite Birmingham City football shirt in front of him.
Arthur was put into the custody of his father after his biological mother Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, 29, killed her partner Gary Cunningham by stabbing him 12 times with a kitchen knife in a drunken rage in February 2019.
Hughes met mother-of-four Tustin on Plenty Of Fish and the couple moved with Arthur into her home near Solihull in the West Midlands when the government declared a lockdown in March 2020. Arthur’s maternal grandmother, Madeleine Halcrow, said that Tustin was ‘obsessed’ about the idea Thomas would go back to Olivia, and that ‘the only way she could get Olivia out of her life was by getting rid of Arthur’.
Tustin, who had two of her four children taken into care following a suicide attempt, repeatedly complained she could not cope with Arthur’s behaviour during lockdown and begged Hughes to let him return to his grandparents. Hughes’ barrister, Bernard Richmond, said Tustin saw Arthur as her ‘prey’.
On Thursday Tustin was convicted of murdering Arthur on June 17, 2020, during the Covid lockdown. Hughes was also found guilty of manslaughter – but cleared of murder – for encouraging the killing, including by sending a text message to Tustin 18 hours before the fatal assault telling her ‘just end him’.
They were both convicted of numerous counts of child cruelty. Following the verdicts, the judge ordered a minute’s silence for Arthur at the request of the jury.