Social services failed to spot bruises on a six-year-old boy who went on to be allegedly murdered by his father and stepmother – despite them being clearly visible on pictures taken by his concerned grandmother, a trial heard today.
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, six, 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 to multiple counts of child cruelty.
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
Tustin (pictured) and Hughes are said to have subjected Arthur to systematic cruelty ‘designed to torture’ the youngster
A trial today heard how a social worker recorded ‘no safeguarding concerns’ over Arthur after being sent to the couple’s home two months before his death.
His paternal grandmother Joanne Hughes made a call to Solihull council’s emergency team on April 16 to report bruises on her grandson’s shoulders, claiming that Tustin could be responsible.
Social worker Jayne Kavanagh and a support worker were dispatched to the house the following day to assess whether Arthur was at risk and required intervention.
But giving evidence at Coventry Crown Court, Mrs Kavanagh said she was unable to spot any bruising other than a ‘faint yellow’ mark to the middle of Arthur’s back.
She said she was left ‘in shock’ when she later saw the photos taken by Mrs Hughes of blue bruises on Arthur’s shoulder blades.
Asked if she could explain why she was unable to spot bruises which had been noticeable a day earlier, Ms Kavanagh replied: ‘No’.
She added: ‘I was shocked and in disbelief that these photos could have been taken the day before and my colleague and I hadn’t seen anything the day afterwards.’
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 in Cranmore Road, Shirley, and was made to sleep on a living room floor.
Arthur collapsed with ‘unsurvivable brain injuries’ on Tuesday, June 16, and died the following day at Birmingham children’s hospital
Ms Kavanagh and support worker Angela Scarlett-Coppage went to the home on April 17 to assess whether any formal intervention was required following Joanne Hughes’s concerns.
The court heard that Hughes had requested to meet in a car park of a local Screwfix store before being told the visit must take place at their home.
Giving evidence, Mrs Kavanagh told how Arthur was playing outside when she arrived at the address and that the youngster appeared ‘clean’, ‘very happy’ and ‘boisterous’.
After speaking to both defendants, she said: ‘The view was that it was a happy household and they were all getting along.
‘It was said to myself that Emma was ‘momma bear’, Thomas was ‘dadda bear’.’
Mrs Kavanagh asked them to rate how happy and safe they felt on a scale from the floor to the ceiling.
She said: ‘The ceiling is the happiest and safest that you feel and the floor you don’t feel safe or very happy.’
Jurors were told that the social workers took a decision not to refer the case for a full social services assessment.
Instead they offered to put a support worker in touch under the Early Help scheme, but no work took place.
Mrs Kavanagh said: ‘I believe Thomas said he wanted to have a little think about it because it meant that professionals would be involved.
‘My colleague Angela, I believe, contacted Thomas a week after the visit…and he said he had changed his mind, and he didn’t really feel like he needed that work.’
Mrs Kavanagh said she first saw the bruise pictures taken by Mrs Hughes a week after her visit.
She said: ‘I was really confused. I was in shock that these photos had been taken the day before.’
Hughes (left) is accused of forcing his son to endure ‘physical and psychological’ abuse in the weeks before his death
Asked if she had subsequently taken any steps to address Arthur’s safety, Mrs Kavanagh replied: ‘No’.
The court was told that Mrs Hughes told Mrs Kavanagh that she was ‘disappointed’ with the outcome of the investigation and was ‘still very worried about her grandson’.
Earlier in the trial, the jury heard how social services informed Arthur’s teachers they had ‘no concerns’ about his well-being.
Teacher Michelle Hull, a safeguarding lead at Dickens Heath primary school, said she was alerted to Mrs Hughes’s 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’.
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.
Hughes then fell ‘hook, line and sinker’ for Tustin, jurors were told, and moved into her home in Cranmore Road when the country entered lockdown in March 2020.
A touching note was left among the floral tributes to six-year-old Arthur at his former home
Prosecutors allege Tustin murdered the youngster when she was home alone with him, and that Hughes ‘intentionally encouraged’ the killing.
In a 999 call made 12 minutes after Arthur was found unresponsive on June 16, 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.
Source: Daily Mail