A boy allegedly murdered by his father and stepmother after a ‘campaign of cruelty’ died with bruises which ‘screamed inflicted injury’, a court heard.
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, six, was killed after suffering months of abuse ‘designed to terrorise’ the youngster, it is said.
It is claimed Emma Tustin, 32, and Thomas Hughes, 29, poisoned Arthur with salt, deprived him of food and made him stand for hours on end in a hallway.
Arthur died with ‘unsurvivable brain injuries’ on June 17 last year, a day after being allegedly attacked by Tustin at the ‘volatile’ couple’s home near Solihull, West Mids.
The pair deny murder and multiple counts of child cruelty.
Jurors at Coventry Court Crown on Tuesday heard details from a pathologist who examined Arthur’s body following his death.
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes (pictured) was allegedly murdered by his father and his partner after enduring months of abuse
Emma Tustin (pictured), 32, and Thomas Hughes, 29, are said to have subjected Arthur to systematic cruelty ‘designed to torture’ the youngster
Dr Roger Malcomson said the youngster was found with multiple bruises ‘consistent with inflicted injury’, and bleeding seen in ‘shaken baby’ cases.
He said: ‘When children run about and they fall over, and they play football, there’s a pattern of injury you expect to see.
‘[They] will have bruises on the knees, on the elbows, maybe in the T-zone of the face.
‘If you find bruises in protected sites, like behind the ear, buttocks, abdomen, chest wall […] those bruises, when you see a lot of them, really scream inflicted injury to you.
‘That’s the pattern Arthur had.’
In a 999 call made 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’.
Dr Malcomson said Arthur was found to have ‘widespread’ bleeding in both eyes, which he said was indicative of ‘severe blunt impact trauma’.
He said: ‘At the minimum, there’s been a very significant head impact but there may have also been a shaking-type mechanism present also.’
The paediatric pathologist went on to describe the youngster’s eye injuries as being toward the ‘extreme end’ seen in head trauma cases.
Arthur had been in the full-time care of Hughes after his mother, Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, was accused of killing her new partner, Gary Cunningham, in February 2019.
Prosecutors allege the youngster was subjected to a ‘campaign of cruelty’ which matched the ‘medical definition of child torture’.
Explaining his post-mortem findings, Dr Malcomson said Arthur’s thymus – an immune system organ behind the breastbone – had shrunk.
Arthur (pictured) was allegedly deprived of food, made to stand in a hallway for 14 hours a day and poisoned with salt before being killed at his home near Solihull, West Midlands
Hughes (left) is accused of forcing his son to endure ‘physical and psychological’ abuse in the weeks before his death
He told jurors that this was usually found in cases of ‘severe and prolonged pathophysiological stress’.
He said: ‘I don’t mean stress like a hard day at work or giving evidence in front of a jury for the day.
‘I mean someone who is very sick, who has been injured severely, or has a severe infection that’s knocked them for six. That sort of severity.’
Asked if ‘repeated and sustained abuse’ could explain the shrunken thymus by prosecutor Jonas Hankin, QC, Dr Malcomson replied: ‘That is my opinion, yes.’
Paramedics were called to the family home on June 16 last year. They restarted Arthur’s heart and rushed him to Birmingham Children’s Hospital but he died the following day.
Prosecutors allege Tustin murdered the youngster and that Hughes ‘intentionally encouraged’ the killing.
On Monday, paediatric neuro-radiologist Professor Stavros Stivaros told jurors how he believed shaking was the ‘unifying diagnosis’ behind Arthur’s injuries.
The brain and spine scan expert compared his brain trauma to car crash victims and disputed a hypothesis that Arthur inflicted his own injuries.
Prof Stivaros said: ‘It is inconceivable to me that such a high-energy action could be self-inflicted by a child’s own physical actions alone.
‘How much force is Arthur going to be able to generate when he is on all fours when he is on the ground?
‘It’s inconceivable that he could have done that.’
Mr Hankin told the jury at Coventry Crown Court that ‘Arthur was made to sleep on the living room floor’ at Tustin’s home and that after his death ‘a duvet was found in a cupboard under the stairs’
In June last year, Hughes allegedly told a neighbour in Solihull (above): ‘If you hear anyone saying ‘don’t kill me’, ignore it, I’m not hurting him.’
Tustin has pleaded guilty to one count of child cruelty but denies further charges of the same offence. Hughes denies all charges.
She allegedly carried out the fatal assault and fetched her phone immediately afterwards to photograph the boy as he lay dying in the hallway.
Jurors were last week played the 999 call made by Tustin 12 minutes after prosecutors claim she fatally assaulted him in a hallway.
In the frantic call, Tustin told the operator that Arthur was ‘barely breathing’ and had ‘lost colour’ after banging his head ‘on the floor about five times’.
After being told to take a ‘deep breath’ by the call handler, Tustin continues: ‘We’ve been having a little bit of trouble with him for the last couple of months.
‘Basically he’s threw himself on the floor, he’s headbutted the floor. I’m trying to pick him up in the process. He’s headbutted me in the process.’
She then added: ‘Obviously I’ve seen the lump on his head, he’s done to himself.
‘It’s a big bang, he’s knocked himself out.
‘He is breathing but he’s barely breathing.’
The court heard how Arthur spent more than 14 hours ‘segregated and isolated’ in a hallway and was made to sleep on a living room floor. Jurors heard text messages between Hughes and Tustin detailing their 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.’
The court heard how one witness claimed Arthur was ‘too weak’ to even hold a glass of water to his mouth.
They also said his ‘clothes looked dirty, his lips cracked, he could barely open his mouth to speak, his hair was dirty, his nails were dirty and he looked malnourished, gaunt and worn-out.’
Opening the trial, Mr Hankin 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.