Arthur Labinjo-Hughes: Missed chances to save life of six-year-old killed by abusers

Independent review under way into actions of social workers who found ‘no safeguarding concerns’ two months before murder

Chiara Giordano
Friday 03 December 2021 11:36
<p>An independent review is under way into the actions of social workers in the lead up to the murder of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes</p>

An independent review is under way into the actions of social workers in the lead up to the murder of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes

An independent review is underway into the actions of social workers who found “no safeguarding concerns” for a boy who was murdered just two months later by his stepmother.

Emma Tustin, 32, was unanimously convicted of murdering six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes at Coventry Crown Court on Thursday.

Her partner, Arthur’s father, 29-year-old Thomas Hughes, was found guilty of manslaughter, after his son suffered an “unsurvivable brain injury” on 16 June 2020.

The court heard how Tustin repeatedly banged Arthur’s head on a hard surface in the hours leading up to his death after she and Hughes carried out a campaign of abuse, including starvation and force-feeding him food covered in salt.

After his death, Arthur was found to have 130 injuries all over his body, after being hit, slapped, kicked, punched and beaten, “over and over”.

In all, social workers and police are accused of missing four key opportunities to help Arthur last year.

It comes as the prime minister, during a by-election campaign visit in north Shropshire, said it was essential that lessons were learned from what happened to the six-year-old.

He said: “I just want to say, on the tragic and appalling case of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, like many people I find it hard to read it, let alone to understand how people could behave like that to a defenceless little child.

“I’m glad that justice had been done, in the sense that they have both received tough sentences, but that is absolutely no consolation, and what we’ve got to make sure now is we learn the lessons about that case, we look at exactly what happened, what else could have been done to protect that child.

“It is early days, but I can tell you this, we will leave absolutely no stone unturned to find out exactly what went wrong in that appalling case.”

17 April 2020

During the trial, jurors heard how Solihull Council social workers visited the boy at Tustin’s home in the borough on 17 April 2020.

The visit was prompted after Arthur’s paternal grandmother, secondary school teacher Joanne Hughes, rang the out-of-hours emergency social services team, reporting bruises she had seen on the boy’s back.

Despite social workers then examining the boy’s back and finding a “faint” yellow bruise, they agreed with Tustin and Hughes it was a “happy household”, with no cause for concern.

But photographs, taken on 16 April, of the deep purple-coloured bruises were later sent to social services by Ms Hughes on 24 April.

This photograph taken by Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’s paternal grandmother prompted a referral to social services, however the bruises were put down to “playfighting” with another youngster

Jayne Kavanagh, one of the two social workers who examined Arthur that day, said she was left confused and “in shock” when she saw those photos which were emailed to her by a manager.

On her visit, she had seen only a “faint” bruise, which was put down to playfighting with another child, by Hughes and Tustin.

Solihull’s Local Child Safeguarding Partnership has said it will now carry out an independent review into the “terrible tragedy” of Arthur’s death, including the contact with social services.

Although further contact was made with Hughes by social workers after the photos were sent, there was no more engagement with the family by the authorities.

Two separate referrals had been made at the same time by Ms Hughes; to West Midlands Police and the social services duty team, with the latter relating to “unexplained” bruising to Arthur’s back.

When social services contacted Hughes to arrange to see Arthur, his father initially suggested meeting in a Screwfix car park but then agreed to a home visit.

Ms Kavanagh then carried out a “threshold” assessment visit along with family support worker Angela Scarlett-Coppage.

Ms Kavanagh said during the visit to Tustin’s home she saw “a small faint bruise... like a yellowish colour” which was “difficult to see”.

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes pictured with his father Thomas Hughes and Hughes’s partner Emma Tustin

But after being shown a photograph showing extensive, deep purple-coloured bruising to the shoulder area taken on 16 April, Ms Kavanagh said she was left “really confused”.

“I was in shock that these photos had been taken the day before,” she said.

“In April, on that visit there were no safeguarding concerns.”

Family support worker Ms Scarlett-Coppage told jurors she “could see a faded bruise” but nothing more.

She agreed social services eventually closed the case on the referral because Hughes “did not consent” to further contact.

20 April 2020

Ms Hughes told Arthur’s school what she has seen. A member of staff called social services but was told the bruises were caused by “playfighting”.

Between April and June 2020

Having previously reported his concerns to the police, Arthur’s uncle, Daniel Hughes, contacted West Midlands Police to enquire about his complaint.

He told officers he tried to visit Tustin’s and Hughes’s home, to which an officer said he will be convicted of breaching Covid lockdown rules if he tried to do so again.

“Weeks” before Arthur’s death on 16 June

John Dutton, Tustin’s stepfather, made an anonymous call to social services “weeks” before Arthur’s death, having learned he was being abused by his father.

In court, Mr Dutton tells jurors that Hughes admitted going “to town” on his son. Asked by Mr Hankin QC, the prosecutor, what he took this to mean at the time, Mr Dutton replied: “Belt the life out of him.”

The NSPCC said the convictions “must be just the start of the process to uncover the full chain of events that ultimately led to Arthur’s death and to establish the lessons that need to be learned to prevent this awful case from happening again”.

The Independent Office of Police Conduct said it had “conducted and concluded” an investigation into the force’s handling of the case, and would publish its report in due course.

Stephen Cullen, chair of the independent Solihull Child Safeguarding Partnership, said: “This terrible tragedy has had a shocking impact on Arthur’s family and across the whole community.

“The tragic loss of a young boy in such terrible circumstances is dreadful.

“We send our heartfelt condolences to everyone affected.

“The circumstances around his death will now be subject to an independent review, the Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review – and clearly it would be inappropriate for the partnership to comment ahead of the findings of that review.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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