A council boss in charge of looking after vulnerable children at the time of a tragic six-year-old’s murder left her post before his parents went on trial, it has emerged – as anger grows over the failures that led to his death despite being on social services’ radar for three years.
Solihull’s £122,294 Director of Children’s Services, Louise Rees, boasted on LinkedIn that she is now ‘retired and loving it’ after leaving her job in August – three months after Arthur Labinjo-Hughes was killed under the cover of lockdown by his father Thomas Hughes, 29, and stepmother Emma Tustin, 32.
Today it emerged the 60-year-old took up the post at Solihull in March 2019 – just weeks after inspectors found ‘widespread and serious failings’ within the children’s services department of Stoke on Trent City Council, where she was the £140,000 director.
The authorities failed to save ‘chubby, happy’ Arthur from a relentless campaign of torture and both physical and mental torture, including being poisoned with salt by Tustin, while Hughes inflicted ‘pressure point’ torture techniques as they made him stand on his own for up to 14 hours a day.
After concerned relatives told the council about bruises on the youngster’s back, social worker Jayne Kavanagh and support worker Angela Scarlett-Coppage visited Tustin’s home but reported ‘no concerns’.
A day before Arthur died of ‘unsurvivable’ head injuries inflicted by Tustin, the court heard he had been rendered ‘too weak’ even to hold a glass of water to his mouth. Jurors were told that the 130 areas of bruising found on the little boy’s body after his death equated to ‘nearly a bruise for every day of lockdown’.
Anne Longfield, England’s former children’s commissioner, said that very vulnerable children ‘have continued to slip from view’, and that she is ‘heartbroken’ and ‘sickened’ by Arthur’s killing.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘For anyone who looks at the serious case reviews, or hears about them, that come after a child’s death, you will see the same things coming up time and time again – missed opportunities, lack of co-ordination, lack of data-sharing – the things that professionals need to have at hand to be able to protect these children, which still aren’t in place.’
Former children’s minister Tim Loughton said Covid restrictions had ‘exacerbated’ the child abuse crisis. ‘There’s so many problems here – there’s a real sense of déjà vu,’ he Today. ‘I think one of the problems is we’ve slightly taken our eyes off the ball.
‘Cases such as this might have been detected better at school or outside, it was all going on behind closed doors. This saw a highly manipulative, sadistic parent and step-mother pull the wool over the eyes of the social workers. But that shouldn’t be an excuse… the system that has failed to protect this child.’
Emma Tustin, 32, (middle) killed six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes by slamming his head on a hard surface after she and 29-year-old Thomas Hughes (left) subjected him to months of torture which included starving him and poisoning him with salt
Solihull’s £122,294 Director of Children’s Services at the time of Arthur’s death, Louise Rees, 60, (pictured) left in August before the trial began
Arthur was beaten to death by 32-year-old Tustin following months of abuse by her and his father Thomas Hughes. His trial hear how relatives repeatedly raised concerns with social services and police but were rebuffed
The case, one of the worst examples of child abuse in British history, raises serious questions about the actions of social workers, police and the boy’s teachers. The opportunities missed to save him included:
- Social workers were sent out to investigate bruising on Arthur reported by his grandmother but concluded there were ‘no safeguarding concerns’;
- Arthur’s uncle sent police photographs of the bruising but no action was taken because social services were already involved – and officers warned the family they could be arrested if they continued trying to visit Hughes;
- A teaching assistant who carried out welfare checks on Arthur – by telephone – was fobbed off with claims that he had been enjoying playing in the garden;
- When Arthur’s school reopened after lockdown a week before his death, no action was taken when he failed to attend;
- Tustin and Hughes’s former next-door neighbours and Tustin’s stepfather also said they made referrals to social services after fearing for Arthur’s safety.
Social workers wanted to be anonymous when they gave evidence to the court, it can be revealed.
Arthur’s maternal grandmother, Madeleine Halcrow, of Birmingham, said she emailed pictures of Arthur’s bruising to Solihull council in April last year. She said: ‘I have a background in nursing so I knew those were non-accidental injuries and I told them as much.’
But she said that when she followed up with the police to find out what had been done, she was told Tustin’s house had appeared clean and tidy. ‘I asked them: ‘So just because a house is tidy it doesn’t mean abuse isn’t taking place?’ Social services failed Arthur – they must have seen how ill he was. It was just weeks before he died.’
Solihull’s Local Safeguarding Children Partnership is carrying out an independent review of the circumstances surrounding the ‘terrible tragedy’, including the actions of Solihull council’s social services.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct said it had ‘conducted and concluded’ an investigation into West Midlands Police’s involvement and would publish its report in due course.
Following the delivery of verdicts after more than six hours of deliberation, Coventry Crown Court stood for a minute’s silence in memory of Arthur at the jury’s request. The 11-strong panel said Arthur’s ‘fight had touched our hearts’.
Hughes and his son moved into Tustin’s council house on the eve of the March 2020 lockdown – seven months after the defendants met on a dating website.
But within weeks of moving in, the previously happy schoolboy looked ‘broken’.
The couple would be damned by Tustin’s own home security cameras, which captured much of the abuse.
‘Wicked’ Tustin 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 the officers who attended the stick-thin boy had ‘hit’ her (pictured)
Sick Tustin fetched her mobile phone immediately after she beat Arthur to take a photograph of the youngster (pictured, with his father Hughes) as he lay dying in the hallway of her home in Cranmore Road, Solihull, West Midlands, in June last year
This image was taken by Arthur’s grandmother Joanne Hughes as part of a desperate attempt to convince the authorities he was in danger
Tustin attacked Arthur for the final time on June 16 last year, the day before her 31st birthday, in between making arrangements with a party organiser who was providing her with celebratory balloons.
Prosecutors said she shook and then repeatedly slammed Arthur’s head on a hard surface while alone with the boy.
Nikki Holmes, founder of the Safer Together child protection consultancy, said Arthur’s case showed how lockdown had ‘ramped up the risk in some families’ and left the professionals dealing with such families with ‘limited oversight’.
She added: ‘Lockdown made it harder to spot when things were going wrong. An examination is needed of the wider system handling cases such as this.’
Hughes, of Solihull, was cleared of murder but convicted of manslaughter and two counts of child cruelty. Tustin, of Solihull, was convicted of murder and four counts of child cruelty. They will be sentenced today.
Mrs Halcrow, who sobbed during the minute’s silence, described the defendants as ‘evil’ and ‘cold, calculating, systematic torturers of a defenceless little boy’.
Stepmother who tortured and murdered Arthur ‘had no maternal instinct whatsoever, wanted children for the attention they brought – and the child benefit’: Her ex gives a disturbing insight as social workers face damning questions
By Andy Dolan and Tom Rawstorne for Daily Mail
Arriving at the home of Emma Tustin and Thomas Hughes, social workers were greeted by a ‘playful and boisterous’ six-year-old, his cheeks flushed from running around in the garden.
As for the severe bruising on Arthur’s left shoulder that had prompted his worried grandmother to call in the authorities, all they later recalled seeing was a faint mark.
And, anyway, any lingering concerns were calmed when they quizzed Arthur about the injury. He and one of Tustin’s other sons claimed it had been caused by a play-fight with boxing gloves.
For the social workers, that was good enough. They concluded it was a ‘happy household’ where everyone got on well. Case effectively closed.
Less than two months later, Arthur was dead, having suffered an ‘unsurvivable’ trauma to his head. A total of 130 injuries, both old and new, were found all over his body. He had also been tortured, poisoned with salt and forced to stand on his own for up to 14 hours a day.
A happy household? More like hellish.
The apparent failures of the authorities to safeguard this little boy were numerous and shocking. His school, the police and social workers all had opportunities to intervene.
Why they did not will form the basis of multiple investigations. And at their heart will be their interactions with one individual. Not Arthur, but with Emma Tustin, his stand-in mum.
Tustin (left) killed six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes by slamming his head on a hard surface after she and 29-year-old Hughes (right) subjected him to months of torture which included starving him and poisoning him with salt
An artist’s impression of Tustin and Hughes in court not long before they were convicted of killing him yesterday
Handout photos issued by West Midlands Police of Arthur. The apparent failures of the authorities to safeguard this little boy were numerous and shocking. His school, the police and social workers all had opportunities to intervene
Because it was she who coached Arthur to lie to the social workers about the cause of his injury. And it was she who had ensnared his father in a twisted, toxic relationship in which the pair had completely lost their ‘moral compass’.
That is not to say Hughes is not also to blame. But what has emerged is that he was far from the first man to fall foul of Tustin. In court the 32-year-old was described as a ‘ruthless predator’. She saw Arthur as her prey because she wanted something he had – his dad.
Speaking exclusively to the Daily Mail, the father of one of Tustin’s four own children uses a similar description. ‘She’s a black widow,’ he said. ‘She sucks the life out of each man she gets together with.’
The man, who asked not to be named, added: ‘She had no maternal instinct whatsoever. She wanted children for the attention they brought her as newborns, and for the child benefit. But once the attention died away and she was left at home with a baby, she didn’t want to know.’
Money meant for the children was spent on tattoos, clothing, jewellery and the latest smartphones for herself. As for the authorities, she was an old hand at dealing with them. Ahead of visits the home would be tidied and toys brought out for the kids.
When the ex-partner and his family alerted social workers to Tustin, she simply ‘turned on the water works’, inflicting injuries on herself and accusing him of beating her and the children instead.
Pictured: Arthur’s mother Olivia, who is currently in prison, described her son’s murder as ‘harrowing and incomparable’
A handout photo issued by West Midlands Police of Arthur. With schools closed, welfare checks by Arthur’s teachers amounted only to calls, then texts and emails – exchanges in which Hughes claimed Arthur was ‘grand’
‘Social services have blood on their hands,’ he said. ‘If they had heeded our warnings then little Arthur might still be alive. Unfortunately, in terms of child welfare and social services, it is a woman’s world. The man is never believed.’
Following the birth of their child, Tustin threw herself out of the bedroom window – breaking her leg – to stop her partner going out with his best friend to wet the baby’s head.
‘I couldn’t tell social services about it because I was worried they’d take the baby away’, he said. ‘She was unhinged.’ When another lover left her eight years ago, she jumped off the top floor of a multi-storey car park near her home in the West Midlands.
She spent five months in hospital with a shattered pelvis, fractured skull, spine and ankle. ‘She’s very manipulative and it’s easy to end up under her spell,’ the man said. ‘Thankfully I came to my senses.’
Tragically, Arthur Labinjo-Hughes found himself in a situation over which he had no control – the final misfortune in a life marked by misfortune. But it could have been so different.
His privately educated birth mother, Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, had the world at her feet. A former Solihull School pupil, where sixth form fees currently cost £14,600 a year, she was a talented debater and keen cadet who went on to become a lance corporal in the Territorial Army.
Social workers were called two months prior to Arthur’s death after concerns were raised but no further action was taken
Hughes met mother-of-four Tustin (pictured) online before the couple moved with Arthur into her home near Solihull
But while studying philosophy, politics and economics at the University of Nottingham, she met Thomas Hughes through Facebook, and dropped out in her final year when she became pregnant with Arthur.
The father-to-be was hardly a catch. After leaving school at the first opportunity, he became a Saturday morning football coach before working as a plasterer and then a builder’s labourer. By the time Arthur was a toddler, his mother’s life had descended into a world of drink and drugs as she struggled with declining mental health.
She began two-timing Hughes, but the new relationship was volatile and violent and in February 2019 – in a ‘drink and drug-fuelled rage’ – she fatally stabbed her new lover. Her arrest and jailing for manslaughter meant Arthur found himself in the full-time care of Hughes, who is now 29.
He and his son moved into an annexe of his parents’ home in Solihull. Hughes’s mother Joanne is a secondary school teacher.
But in August 2019 the fuse was lit when Hughes met Tustin through the Plenty of Fish dating website, quickly falling into her thrall. The court heard Tustin had left school with no qualifications and never worked.
At the age of 14 she was reprimanded over a brawl with another girl and at the age of 16 was cautioned for shoplifting. A year later she had her first child. Her second arrived two years after that. She would go on to have four children with three different men.
Arthur’s biological mother, Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, 29, (pictured left) killed her partner Gary Cunningham (right) by stabbing him 12 times with a kitchen knife in a drunken rage in February 2019 and is currently serving an 11 year prison sentence
After she jumped from the car park, the two older children went to live with their fathers. When the two younger children were born, they stayed with her and Arthur, but had regular contact with their dad. The father who spoke with the Mail said each relationship followed a pattern. ‘She gets pregnant very quickly after starting a relationship because it gives her a degree of control over the man,’ he said. ‘Then she isolates him from his friends and family.
‘From what I’ve read of the court case, she seems to have done this to Hughes too.’
Indeed she did.
Hughes and his son moved in to Tustin’s council house in Cranmore Road, Shirley, when the country entered lockdown in March 2020. She quickly fell pregnant – later aborting her unborn baby at 21 weeks when in custody.
Relatives noticed that both Hughes and his son’s behaviour rapidly changed.
‘Arthur used to come to stay with me,’ Madeleine Halcrow, the boy’s maternal grandmother, told the Mail. ‘But when Tom came to collect him Arthur would ask if ‘she’, meaning Tustin, was in the car. He would be in tears getting in to the car, asking if he could stay with me. It was heart-breaking.’
Pictured: Arthur, pictured here in his Spiderman hat, loved dressing up as superheroes according to his biological mother
Arthur’s other grandmother was also concerned. Following a row with Tustin, Hughes moved back in with his mother for three days in April. Arthur told her that Tustin had shoved him into a wall and called him ‘ugly’.
When Mrs Hughes checked his body, she saw severe bruising from the front of his left shoulder to the rear, and photographed the injuries. The images were sent to Solihull Council’s social services department and two social workers attended Tustin’s home for a spot check the next day. But they were not shown the photographs in advance and the visit came to nothing after Tustin and Hughes coached the kids to play the part of happy children.
A key opportunity missed – and, as we highlight elsewhere, far from the only one.
Lockdown clearly did not help. With schools closed, welfare checks by Arthur’s teachers amounted only to calls, then texts and emails – exchanges in which Hughes claimed Arthur was ‘grand’, ‘enjoying the garden’ and ‘decorating his bedroom’.
The reality could not have been more different and much of it was captured by Tustin’s own security cameras.
Heart-breaking images show the six-year-old bedding down for the night alone on the lounge floor where he was made to sleep. Each morning Tustin would drag the covers off the bewildered boy to wake him with a fright.
Arthur with his father. The youngster died after his head was repeatedly smashed against a hard surface
‘I’LL TAKE HIS HEAD OFF’: VILE MESSAGES SHARED BETWEEN THE EVIL PAIR
Mother’s Day 2020:
Arthur’s stepmother Emma Tustin messaged her mother, referring to the little boy as a ‘nagging little s***’
Arthur’s father Thomas Hughes: ‘Kid is a selfish little c***. I’ll dash my food off his head.
‘I’ll take his c****** head right off his shoulders.’
Hughes: ‘Just take his jaw off’
Hughes: ‘Kid’s getting ended when I get back.’
Tustin: ‘He’s screaming at me again, little f*****.’
Hughes: ‘Let him read this: I’m not in the mood for your games tonight. Stay awake crying and being rude to everyone when I get back you can stand up and I’ll go to town on you. Fed up of your silly games and attitude. Best be asleep when I get back or watch what happens.’
Tustin to Hughes: ‘Please hurry up I’ve had enough of the cheek, little t***’
In a text conversation about separating:
Tustin says: ‘Tell him he’s won… I want you but not him. I’m not being treated like that by him.’
Hughes: ‘It can’t be one and not the other. Unfortunately it’s got to be both or none.’
End of May:
Tustin describes Arthur as: ‘malicious, cruel and just plain awful’.
Tustin refers to Arthur as a ‘cheeky little t***’ and ‘d*******’ before saying: ‘I’m going to chin this little c***.’
Hughes: ‘Kid’s getting ended when I get back’ to which Tustin replies with an audio recording of Arthur moaning.
Tustin: ‘It’s still going. It’s getting boring.’
Hughes to Tustin: ‘I’ll sort him out when I’m home.’
June 15, day before the fatal assault:
Hughes to Tustin: ‘Just gag him or something.
‘Tie some rope round his mouth with a sock in it or something.’
Tustin: ‘I’m going to be knocking him out if he continues.’
Tustin: ‘Kida (sic) bit me for the last time.’
The footage also showed the defendants tucking into takeaway food in the living room while ‘isolated’ Arthur was deprived of food and water and banished to the ‘thinking step’ at the foot of the staircase – his punishment for what they perceived to be his poor behaviour.
During one two-day period he was confined to a cramped hallway for 26 hours, while the defendants ate ice creams or bathed in a hot tub.
Tustin recorded 200 audio clips of the boy in distress, which she gleefully forwarded to her lover.
Some were of Arthur wailing while one captured him saying ‘Daddy’s going to throw me out of the window’. In other clips Arthur cried ‘nobody loves me’ and ‘no one is going to feed me’.
Prosecutors said the systemic abuse meted out to Arthur, which included feeding him salt-laden food, matched the medical definition of child torture. By the end he was too weak even to hold a glass of water to his mouth. On the day he died – June 16 – prosecutors believe Tustin shook and then slammed Arthur’s head on a hard surface, possibly after pushing him down the stairs, while alone with the boy.
Hughes was at the supermarket at the time but returned home seven minutes after the fatal assault. It was a further five minutes before the pair called an ambulance.
Prosecutor Jonas Hankin QC said the ‘pitiless’ father ‘encouraged’ the killing in a phone call less than three minutes before Arthur sustained his fatal head injuries, having previously sent Tustin text responses, telling her to ‘fill him in’, ‘take his neck off’ and ‘get nasty’. Jurors were also shown a picture of Arthur, dressed in Marvel Avengers pyjamas, slumped and crying by the front door – which Tustin admitted was ‘because he had no strength left in him’.
It was taken just minutes before he suffered the brain damage which killed him.
In their defence, the pair either claimed Arthur was an unruly boy whose injuries were self-inflicted, or blamed each other.
Giving evidence, Hughes admitted he was ‘besotted’ with Tustin, who threatened to end the relationship if he didn’t punish Arthur.
But Mr Hankin told the court that could not excuse his behaviour, describing him as ‘wicked’ and ‘utterly ruthless’ in his willingness to hit Arthur ‘over and over and over again’.
Hughes removed his son’s favourite teddy bear, cut up his prized Birmingham City FC football shirts in front of him, and on another occasion duped the child into thinking he was going to see his grandparents – before turning the car around. ‘He was malevolent,’ the barrister said. ‘He relished causing Arthur distress. That level of cruelty is difficult to comprehend, let alone in a father towards his own son.’
Tustin, meanwhile, told jurors Arthur was so out of control he threatened to stab her with a knife. It was part of a ludicrous defence in which she claimed Arthur ‘threw himself’ into cupboards or doors.
While on remand awaiting trial, Tustin told a cellmate that Arthur died when ‘the little f***er tried to get out the front door and I stopped him trying to follow his dad’.
The boy’s life support machine was switched off at 1am on June 17, 2020, the morning after he was brutally assaulted for the final time.
According to a source, Arthur’s body still lies in a hospital morgue as relatives of his incarcerated mother and father battle each other for the right to bury him.
Even in death, the innocent, defenceless little boy cannot find the peace he was denied in life.
The little boy who never stood a chance: How authorities missed FOUR key opportunities to save Arthur
Relatives of tragic Arthur Labinjo-Hughes today hit out at the failings of social workers and police who missed a raft of opportunities to save the six-year-old’s life.
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.’
The nurse spoke out as Emma Tustin, 32, was convicted of murdering Arthur on June 17, 2020, during the Covid lockdown. Arthur’s father Thomas Hughes, 29, was also found guilty of manslaughter for encouraging the killing, including by sending a text message to Tustin 18 hours before the fatal assault telling her ‘just end him’. But he was cleared of murder.
They were both found convicted of numerous child cruelty charges after subjecting him to systematic 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.
The boy’s family squarely blame Solihull Council’s children’s services, which failed to grasp a series of chances to stop Arthur’s ‘unimaginable’ torture before he was murdered with 130 separate injuries.
MailOnline can today 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 died on June 16, 2020 after suffering an ‘unsurvivable head injury’. These are the four key chances the authorities missed to avert the tragedy:
- ONE – Arthur’s grandmother, Joanne Hughes, called social services on April 16 to say she had seen the youngster covered in bruises. However, social workers failed to spot them during a visit to his home.
- TWO – 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’.
- THREE – Arthur’s uncle, Daniel Hughes, reports his concerns to police but is threatened with arrest if he tries to go back to the youngster’s home.
- FOUR – John Dutton, Emma Tustin’s stepfather, makes an anonymous call to social services weeks before Arthur’s death.
MISSED CHANCE 1 –
Grandmothers reports bruises to social services – but they fail to spot them during visit
Arthur’s paternal grandmother, Joanne Hughes, made a call to Solihull council’s emergency team on April 16 to report bruises on his shoulders.
She also told them Arthur had said the injuries were caused by Tustin, who ‘grabbed him to the face, called him names and pushed him and he bumped his head on the stairs’.
In response to her report, social worker Jayne Kavanagh and support worker Angela Scarlett-Coppage were dispatched to the family home in Shirley, Solihull, the following day.
Mrs Kavanagh told jurors she arrived to find Arthur playing outside and he appeared ‘clean’, ‘very happy’ and ‘boisterous’. She was unable to spot any bruising other than a ‘faint yellow’ mark in the middle of his back.
Grandmother: Arthur’s body has still not been buried 16 months on due to family row
Arthur’s maternal grandmother, Madeleine Halcrow, told MailOnline that her grandson’s body remains in the mortuary of Leicester Royal Infirmary, where the post-mortem was carried out 16-months ago, due to a legal dispute over who has the right to lay him to rest.
Her family want to bury him in a small quiet funeral in a churchyard in Birmingham while the Hughes family have a plot for him elsewhere and want to take charge of the service.
Ms Halcrow confirmed she had sought legal advice with a firm of solicitors and added: ‘I hope that we can reach some sort of agreement with the Hughes family – for Arthur’s sake.
‘But for the time being it doesn’t look that way and it’s looking increasingly likely the matter of will be able to lay him to rest will go to court.’
After speaking Tustin and Hughes, she and Ms Scarlett-Coppage formed the view that Arthur was being cared for in a ‘happy household’ who were ‘all getting along’.
They reported ‘no safeguarding concerns’ and the case was not referred 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 she was left ‘in shock’ when she eventually saw the photo of dark bruises on Arthur’s shoulder blades.
Asked in court if she could explain why she was unable to spot bruises which had been noticeable a day earlier, she 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.’
Arthur’s maternal grandmother Madeleine Halcrow, said Joanne Hughes and her husband, Chris, visited her at her home in Birmingham in April to show her the photo of Arthur’s bruises and ask if she knew how Arthur had got them.
She told MailOnline: ‘I had no idea whatsoever because I’d been blocked from having any contact with Arthur by Thomas and I hadn’t seen him since October 21, 2019.
‘I immediately called Solihull social services but they told me that they’d already been to see Arthur and they didn’t have any issues.
‘I sent them the photographs of his back and then called the police who said they’d also gone to the house and like social services they had no worries as the property was ”immaculate”.
‘My response was to say ”so an immaculate house doesn’t constitute child abuse then?” As far as I’m aware there were no more visits after that.
‘Both the police and social services were lied to by Thomas and Emma who told them that the bruise was from ‘boisterous play’. I know it’s difficult because there hadn’t been previous contact with Arthur but nothing was done when it should have been.’
The nurse added: ‘The whole social services department failed Arthur. They must have seen how poorly Arthur was, how fatigued and weak he was. He died just eight weeks later.’
Solihull’s £122,294 Director of Children’s Services at the time, Louise Rees, 60, left in August before the trial began. Rees’ LinkedIn profile boasts that she is now ‘retired and loving it’.
Arthur had been on social services’ radar for three years. In 2018 he was referred to them twice over concerns about his mother, Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, an alcoholic and drug user who was eventually jailed for stabbing to death her lover.
MISSED CHANCE 2 –
Worried teacher calls social services about bruises – but is told they were caused by ‘play’
On April 20, a desperate Joanne Hughes told Arthur’s school about the referral to social services she had made four days earlier.
Michelle Hull, safeguarding lead at Dickens Heath Community Primary School, then contacted social services to alert them to Joanne’s report but was told they had ‘no concerns’.
Ms Hull told jurors: ‘[Mrs Hughes] phoned to make us aware she had concerns about Arthur and made a MASH (multi-agency safeguarding hub) referral.
‘She said that she had seen Arthur and he had bruises on, I think, it was his back. She said she had seen bruises.’
‘He’s doing grand’: How evil father fobbed off concerned school workers checking up on Arthur over lockdown
Staff at Dickens Heath primary school contacted Arthur’s father Thomas Hughes for welfare checks when it shut during the first Covid lockdown in April 2020.
In response, Thomas painted an idyllic picture of his son’s life – a jarring contrast to the twisted abuse he was actually suffering during this time.
Replying to messages sent on the school’s messaging platform, Hughes told staff his son had been ‘enjoying the garden’ and ‘decorating his bedroom’.
In one exchange, he wrote: ‘Arthur is plodding along, enjoying the sunshine and messing about the garden.
‘We might have a barbecue at the weekend. He just wants to see his friends now as he misses them a bit. Thank you for checking in.’
The school replied: ‘Keep enjoying the great outdoors, Arthur. We miss you too but we’ll all be back together soon when it is safe. Enjoy the weekend. ‘
In another message, Hughes added: ‘Arthur has been doing grand. He’s found it quite challenging not being at school and not having that routine but we’ve been decorating his bedroom.
‘He’s done little bits of schoolwork and doing PE with Joe [Wicks]. Take care and stay safe.’
Ms Hull said Arthur’s grandmother had also voiced concerns about Tustin’s ‘mental health’ and said that she was a ‘coercive’ partner.
She added: ‘She was concerned the relationship wasn’t a positive one.
‘She was worried about Thomas and Arthur because the partner that he had – she was worried about her mental health. She felt his partner, Emma, was coercive.’
Jonas Hankin QC, prosecuting, asked Ms Hull whether social services had explained to her the nature of the checks they carried out on Arthur while visiting him at home.
‘What, if any, information were you given about the nature of the checks that social services said had been performed?’ the barrister asked.
Ms Hull replied: ‘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.’
Asked if the support worker had given further detail about the injuries she had seen, Ms Hull said: ‘I think she referred to the bruises on the back.’
Ms Hull said the social worker ‘didn’t have any concerns about parenting’ by Tustin.
The teacher 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’.
Instead, Ms Hull volunteered for the school ‘to stay involved and just do check-ins with the family’, which Mr Hughes consented to.
Asked why she had made that offer, Ms Hull said: ‘Because they were a family we had taken in and nurtured and that’s very much how our school works.’
Dickens Heath had previously raised concerns about Arthur’s mental state.
He started at the school in February 2019. At the time he had been told that his mother, on remand for killing her boyfriend, had left to join the army.
By October 2019, his teacher Aileen Carabine said that he had learned that his mother was in prison and had become more “reserved and anxious’. She said he had become “fixated” with his father disappearing from his life, being taken away from his father and his father killing him.
Hughes and his mother had a meeting with both the school and a paediatrician in November 2019 at which they spoke of their concerns for how vulnerable Arthur was, how he was clingy, babyish and obsessed with cuddly toys.
They were told by both the school and the medic that these were normal symptoms for a child in Arthur’s situation and they should respond with love and understanding and not to punish him or take away his toys.
The school made a referral to mental health services and in March 2020 Arthur met with Kerry Forsyth-Benson, a CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) practitioner.
MISSED CHANCE 3 –
Youngster’s uncle tells police about his injuries – only for officer to threaten HIM with arrest over Covid rules if he goes to check on nephew
Arthur’s uncle, Daniel Hughes, said he also had photos of the youngster’s bruises and showed them to police, but never heard anything back.
Daniel said he and other relatives tried to visit Arthur at home to confront Tustin and Hughes.
After the attempted visit, he contacted West Midlands Police to report his concerns, but instead of taking any action an officer threatened him with arrest for breaking Covid rules if he tried to visit the house again.
The Solihull home where Arthur was abused, which his uncle, Daniel Hughes, tried to visit with other relatives to confront Emma Tustin and Thomas Hughes about what they were doing to him
Daniel told jurors that a reluctant police worker eventually agreed to receive photos of the child’s bruises but he never heard anything back.
He said: ‘I went on the police webchat to enquire as to what I could do for the safety of my nephew.
‘I had a webchat with an operative. He gave me a case number and within ten minutes a private number called me.
‘A police officer identified himself, who said he had been around to the address and spoke with Tustin and Tom [Thomas Hughes]. We were advised if we were to return to the address we would be arrested.
‘I said I had photos of Arthur’s injuries and I didn’t believe that if he had seen those injuries, he would be happy that he was okay. He reluctantly received the photos and said he would speak to his sergeant and get back to me. He never did.’
Daniel did not reveal the specific date of the call and it is not clear who took the photos.
After Arthur’s death, a neighbour wrote on Facebook claiming they had also informed police he was being abused.
They wrote: ‘I rang the police! I rang child services! They did nothing and as a result the toddler has died. Solihull child services make me feel sick.’
Besides the failings of social services, West Midlands Police have been investigated over their handling of the case by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, who are now due to release their findings.
MISSED CHANCE 4 –
‘He was in danger’: Anonymous call to social services by Tustin’s stepfather weeks before tragic boy’s murder
John Dutton, Tustin’s stepfather, told jurors he made a call to social services just weeks before Arthur collapsed with fatal brain injuries on June 16, 2020.
Asked why he made the referral – which he chose to keep anonymous – Mr Dutton said: ‘I thought he was in danger.’
Mr Dutton said Hughes ‘dished out the discipline’ on visits to his home and admitted slashing Arthur’s beloved Liverpool and Birmingham City football shirts.
Days before his death: Arthur attempts to pick up a duvet from the floor where he slept in CCTV footage shown to Coventry Crown Court
He also said that during one visit during the first Covid lockdown, Hughes confessed how he had ‘gone to town’ on the youngster.
Mr Dutton said: ‘He told us that he had gone to town on him and when he had done it he went up to the shower and cried his eyes out.’
Asked by prosecutor Jonas Hankin, QC, what Mr Dutton took that to mean, he sobbed: ‘Belt the life out of him.’ He added: ‘I was just shocked. He didn’t seem the type.’
Mr Dutton told the court that after the call, he stopped allowing Arthur into his house because his wife was ‘distressed’ at how he was being treated.
He said Arthur was ordered to sit at a table and face the wall ‘for hours’ like ‘a zombie’ whenever he was brought over to their home.
Boy who never stood a chance: From a killer mother to father and stepmother who mocked and abused him till his dying day – timeline of tragic case
February: Arthur’s biological mother, Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, 29, kills her partner Gary Cunningham by stabbing him 12 times with a kitchen knife.
Arthur is moved into the care of his father, Thomas Hughes, 29. Later he meets Emma Tustin, 32, online.
Hughes and Arthur moved into an annexe at the back of his parent’s garden.
His grandmother said Arthur was ‘nervous’ at first but became a ‘happy, well-rounded child’.
August: Hughes met Tustin on dating website Plenty of Fish. They went on their first date in a pub.
Tustin failed to reveal that in 2013 she had tried to commit suicide.
She also failed to reveal how her first two children went to live with their fathers.
After three dates Hughes introduced Tustin to Arthur.
September: Hughes’ brother Blake said his nephew’s behaviour ‘change quite a lot’.
He said his brother became more anxious at being told off while his brother ‘became a lot stricter.’
Hughes also recalled an incident where he argued with Tustin because he bought Arthur a Subway sandwich, which she said was ‘an unnecessary treat.’
October: Aileen Carabine, a special educational coordinator at Arthur’s school, said Arthur ‘deteriorated’ that month.
She said he became more reserved, anxious and ‘not quite as smiley’.
November: Thomas and his mother Joanne met with Arthur’s school to discuss their growing concerns about his behaviour.
Teachers said Arthur was having nightmares and spoke of his father ‘killing him.’
Tustin became pregnant with Hughes, but had a miscarriage.
December: Arthur became upset during a Christmas nativity when the baby was taken out of its crib.
Hughes proposed to Tustin in the annexe.
January: Arthur’s school begin to raise concerns about him, including his ‘clinginess’ and ‘obsession’ with soft toys’.
February: Tustin took Arthur with her to have her hair done. Arthur was made to sit at a table with his hands on his knees and not move.
March: Hughes and Arthur move into Tustin’s home in Solihull.
April 16: Arthur’s paternal grandmother, Joanne Hughes, made a call to Solihull council’s emergency team to report bruises on his shoulders.
April 17: Social worker Jayne Kavanagh and support worker Angela Scarlett-Coppage visit Tustin’s home but report ‘no concerns’.
April 20: A desperate Joanne Hughes tells Arthur’s school about the referral to social services she had made four days earlier. Michelle Hull, safeguarding lead at Dickens Heath Community Primary School, contacts social services but is told they have ‘no concerns’.
April (specific date unclear): Thomas Hughes fobs off Arthur’s school in online messages, insisting he is ‘doing grand’.
April (specific date unclear): Arthur’s uncle, Daniel Hughes, tries to alert police to Arthur’s bruises.
May/June (specific date unclear): When John Dutton, Tustin’s stepfather, says he made an anonymous call to social services.
June 8: Arthur’s school re-opened but Hughes did not send him back. He claimed his son had a bad night’s sleep and would send him back the next day.
Arthur would never return to school.
June 12-15: Arthur spent more than 35 hours in isolation in the hallway.
On Friday Arthur was made to stand in hall for 14 hours, 19 minutes, as Tustin ate McDonald’s with her son in the living room.
On Saturday Arthur was made to stand in the hall for 11 hours and 49 minutes.
In the video, Hughes can be seen slapping him around the head while Tustin grabbed him by the scruff of the neck as she marches him from the kitchen to the hallway.
The couple spent time in their garden hot tub and eating ice creams.
On Sunday Arthur was in the hallway for 10 hours and 54 minutes and made to wear a fleece onesie.
June 15: Tustin is seen waking Arthur up at 7.06am by ripping his bedding from underneath him.
Horrific final video shows an emaciated Arthur struggling to pick up a duvet from the living room floor where he had been forced to sleep.
June 16: Arthur suffered an ‘unsurvivable injury’ caused by Tustin repeatedly banging his head on a hard surface.
June 17: Arthur’s life support was switched off and he died in hospital.
December 1, 2021: Labinjo-Halcrow is jailed for 11 years for killing Mr Cunningham.