Rhodes on the horrors of quicksand and how technology might have saved little Arthur

The latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes

Little Arthur Labinjo-Hughes died because a wicked couple put on a good act. When social workers called to investigate alleged bruising, they reported finding a “playful and boisterous” six-year-old, little suspecting that Arthur’s father Thomas Hughes and stepmother Emma Tustin had coached the boy to lie about his bruises.

When teachers sent texts to check on the lad during lockdown, Arthur’s father replied that the boy was “grand” and playing in the garden or decorating his bedroom. And no-one suspected that for months Hughes and Tustin had been torturing, starving, beating and terrorising the child. Yet the evidence was there, if only the authorities had been able to look in the right place. For at least a month before Tustin killed Arthur, she and Hughes were exchanging text messages which referred to Arthur in the vilest terms, each encouraging violence against him.

So imagine this. Instead of knocking on the door to investigate reports of violence against the child, police and social services had obtained a warrant to monitor the couple’s text messages. Technology moves on; we live in an age when a knock at the door is no substitute for a peek into cyberspace. Within a few days Hughes and Tustin’s play acting would have been exposed. The authorities would have realised this pitiful child was in terrible danger. Little Arthur would have been found a new home where today he would be loved and cherished and be looking forward to a magical Christmas, not left to the bestiality of these monsters.

I suspect we of the baby-boomer generation have a special fear and dread of quicksand. For we were the Lone Ranger generation and a staple of those early TV westerns was assorted heroes getting stuck in quicksand and being rescued by their faithful horse just as the glutinous mess reached their lips.

But nothing we witnessed in those black-and-white days compares with the horrors seen by Cedric Robinson MBE, Queen’s Guide to Morecambe Bay and local hero who died a few days ago. His obituary recalled some of the tragedies he beheld when inexperienced bay-crossers came to grief. He saw “two horses go down in quicksand and tractors disappear in seconds, never to be seen again.” The stuff of nightmares.

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