A six-year-old boy murdered by his stepmother after being subjected to “sadistic” and “appalling” cruelty, was “failed by the very authorities” tasked with keeping him safe, his grandmother has said.
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes was left with an unsurvivable brain injury while in the sole care of “evil” 32-year-old Emma Tustin.
She was jailed for life with a minimum term of 29 years at Coventry Crown Court on Friday, after being convicted of murder by assaulting defenceless Arthur in the hallway of her Cranmore Road home in Solihull, on June 16, 2020.
Arthur, whose body was also covered in 130 bruises, died in hospital the next day.
“Manipulative” and “calculating” Tustin was unanimously convicted after an eight-week trial trial, with the boy’s “pitiless” father Thomas Hughes, 29, found guilty of his manslaughter, after encouraging the killing.
Hughes’ “infatuation” for Tustin had “obliterated” any love for his son, the sentencing judge said.
He was jailed for 21 years, during the pair’s sentencing hearing.
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”.
In her victim impact statement, which she read in court ahead of the sentencing, Ms Hughes said Arthur, as a “happy, contented, thriving seven-year-old” would “be alive today” had her son not met Tustin.
The secondary school teacher 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.”
An independent review is now under way into the authorities’ contact with Arthur before his death.
That work will include examining other potential missed opportunities to intervene, including an anonymous call Tustin’s own stepfather John Dutton claimed in court to have made to social services, and contact with the police from Hughes’ brother about Arthur’s bruises.
The Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) is set to publish a report into West Midlands Police’s contact with the case, in due course, but has said it “found no indication any individual behaved in a manner that justified disciplinary proceedings”.
As the sentencing 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.
Instead he addressed his remarks to Hughes and Tustin’s empty chair.
It also emerged during the hearing how Tustin twice made attempts to take her own life during the trial which jurors were previously told had been periodically delayed for “health” reasons.
Mr Justice Wall started by saying the trial had been “without doubt one of the most distressing and disturbing cases I have had to deal with”, adding neither Hughes not Tustin had shown any remorse.
The judge said Arthur had been, at the time Tustin was introduced into his life, a “healthy, happy young boy”.
But less than three months after moving in with Tustin at the start of the first national lockdown, the little boy was left “broken” from exposure to a campaign of “acute or prolonged abuse,” he said.
Tustin was also convicted of two counts of child cruelty, including salt-poisoning and withholding food and drink from Arthur.
She had 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.
Tustin was jailed for 10 years each, and Hughes nine years each, for the cruelty charges they admitted or were convicted of, all to be served concurrently.
The judge said Tustin had poisoned the boy with a “significant” amount of salt just hours before fatally assaulting the youngster, and had also been administering “smaller doses of salt for some time” to his meals.
“He was forced to live a solitary and lonely life within your home, including being made to stand to attention alone in the hallway of the house for most of the day,” he added.
Jailing the pair, he said: “This cruel and inhuman treatment of Arthur was a deliberate decision by you to brush off his cries for help as naughtiness.”
The judge added the couple’s behaviour was “appalling” and also, at times, acts that were “spiteful and sadistic” in their banal cruelty.
He drew attention to Hughes “ripping up” his son’s beloved Birmingham City Football Club shirts and buying ice creams for him and Tustin but skipping buying one for his starving son.
“They are but examples of how you relished in making him suffer,” he added.
The judge said it was a “shocking feature” of the case that Tustin and her own children lived “a perfectly happy, normal life” in the same home “while this appalling cruelty to Arthur was taking place”.
Tustin also recorded 200 audio files and videos of Arthur’s suffering and punishment, often sending them to Hughes to back her false claims he was being “naughty”.
The judge said anyone could have seen the boy’s responses were a “cry for help from a deeply unhappy child”, whom Tustin was, by then, deliberately starving and refusing water.
And he told Hughes, who had claimed in evidence he only realised after Arthur’s death how abusive his own behaviour was, that these were “self-serving lies”.
He said Tustin made a “calculated” decision to kill, adding: “I am sure that at the moment you launched this attack on him you intended that he should die.”
“You are a manipulative woman who will tell any lie, and shift the blame onto anyone, to save your own skin,” he added.
“You wanted Thomas Hughes so he could provide for you and your own children but did not want to be troubled by Arthur any longer.”
The judge called Hughes’ “encouragement” of his girlfriend’s actions “chilling”, including sending a text message 18 hours before the attack saying “just end him”.
He added: “You were Arthur’s father, in a position of trust and bore primary responsibility for protecting him.
“He was extremely vulnerable and you lied to his school in last days of Arthur’s life to protect both you and Ms Tustin.