A six-year-old boy murdered by his stepmother “was failed by the very authorities” tasked with keeping him safe, his grandmother has told a court ahead of the killers’ sentencing.
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes was left with an unsurvivable brain injury while in the sole care of “evil” 32-year-old Emma Tustin, after she had cruelly abused, starved and poisoned him.
She fatally assaulted the boy in the hallway of her home in Cranmore Road, Solihull, on June 16 2020, using severe force.
He died in hospital the following day.
Tustin was unanimously convicted on Thursday of Arthur’s murder after an eight-week trial at Coventry Crown Court, with the boy’s “pitiless” father, Thomas Hughes, 29, found guilty of his manslaughter, after encouraging the killing.
It emerged at trial that Arthur had been seen by social workers just two months before his death, after concerns were raised by his paternal grandmother, Joanne Hughes, but they concluded there were “no safeguarding concerns”.
At the start of the pair’s sentencing hearing at Coventry Crown Court on Friday, Ms Hughes read a victim impact statement on behalf of her family.
The secondary school teacher said Arthur, as a “happy, contented, thriving seven-year-old” would “be alive today” had her son not met Tustin.
But she added: “It is also clear that Arthur was failed by the very authorities that we, as a society, are led to believe are there to ensure the safety of everyone.”
Arthur’s maternal grandmother, Madeleine Halcrow, in a victim impact statement delivered on behalf of the boy’s natural mother, recalled his “beautiful smile” and his “kind, nurturing spirit”, adding that he had been “the light of my life”.
“He was let down by a person he trusted and should have protected him, left alone and isolated, and then they took him away from me,” she said.
“My child, my little love, defenceless, trusting and nothing but loving, was killed.
“His short life stolen and the hole left in me and those who loved Arthur will never be repaired.
“Sleep well, my angel – you are truly loved.”
As the hearing began Mr Justice Mark Wall QC said Tustin had been brought to court for her sentencing but had “refused to come up” to the dock.
Mary Prior QC, in mitigation for Tustin, told the court her client had made two attempts to take her life during the trial.
Accepting Tustin had shown no real remorse for the death of Arthur, she also said Tustin was “relatively young”, and “likely to spend the very best part of her life – at least – in custody”.
“None of what I have said is intended to justify Ms Tustin’s actions, in any way.”
Bernard Richmond QC, representing Hughes, said: “He was a weak person who gave in to the darkest recess of his personality which, before meeting Ms Tustin, he did not know existed.
“It will be a matter of bitter shame and and bitter regret to him for the rest of his life that he behaved in a way abhorrent to any right-thinking person and let down the person who most needed his love and protection.”
After fatally assaulting Arthur, Tustin then took 12 minutes to call 999.
Instead she first rang Hughes, then lied to medics and police that Arthur “fell and banged his head and while on the floor banged his head another five times”.
Tustin, who once referred to Arthur as “Satan”, later claimed he must have thrown himself down the stairs, despite evidence that he was barely strong enough to pick up his own bedding, or stand.
Hughes, of Stroud Road, Solihull, was convicted of encouraging the killing, including by sending a text message to Tustin 18 hours before the fatal assault telling her “just end him”.
On one occasion before his death, Arthur told his father: “I am in danger with you, Dad.”
Tustin was also convicted of two counts of child cruelty, including salt-poisoning and withholding food and drink from Arthur.
Partway through the trial, she admitted two other cruelty counts – wilfully assaulting Arthur on three occasions and isolating him, including by forcing him to stand in the hallway for up to 14 hours a day as part of a draconian punishment regime.
Labourer Hughes was also convicted of the cruelty offences which Tustin had admitted – but was cleared of withholding food and drink, or of poisoning his own son with salt.
An independent review is now under way into the authorities’ contact with Arthur before his death.
Tustin and Hughes’ sentencing hearing continues.