A SERIES of missed opportunities by police, social workers and teachers allowed a boy of six to be brutally starved, tortured and beaten to death by his evil father and step-mum.
In chilling similarities to the horrific Baby P case several years ago, the system badly failed Arthur Labinjo-Hughes who was also found poisoned with a massive dose of salt when he died.
His death followed a sadistic “campaign of cruelty” carried out by the evil pair.
“Wicked” Thomas Hughes, 29, and hot-tempered step-mum Emma Tustin, 32, imprisoned the boy in a hallway for 14 hours a day – forcing him to wear a fluffy onesie for days during a baking heatwave.
The volatile couple restricted his water and food – all the while tucking into takeaways and slurping on ice creams as the little lad languished out of sight.
Their unrelenting abuse carried on for weeks before Arthur was battered to death in a fit of rage by Tustin on June 16 last year.
She shook the lad before then slamming his head with such force it caused unsurvivable brain bleeds seen in motorway car crash victims.
Hughes was today convicted of manslaughter while Tustin was found guilty of murder.
Arthur's family wept as jurors also found the pair guilty of a string of child cruelty counts.
Following the verdicts, it can be revealed that despite police and social services shutting down opportunities to step in to help Arthur, no professionals have yet faced disciplinary action.
Cowardly social services workers even wanted to be anonymous giving evidence in court.
A serious case review has now been launched into the shortcomings – including that Tustin was already known to children’s services over previous concerns of domestic violence.
West Midlands Police, too, has been probed by the police watchdog over its actions after worried family members raised concerns over Arthur’s safety.
Worryingly, the case demonstrates that social services have learned few lessons since their shocking failure sparked national outcry in the Baby P case in 2007.
The cruel couple – who blamed each other for the horrors inflicted on Arthur – hoodwinked the authorities who missed crucial opportunities to intervene.
Arthur died gaunt and frail, unable to support the weight of his own body, having been subjected to abuse “deliberately designed to terrorise”, said prosecutors.
Less than a year earlier – before Hughes met Tustin on dating website Plenty of Fish – he was just like any other boy; active, energetic and with a love for football and cricket.
But during the seven-week trial, Coventry Crown Court heard how Arthur was pummeled into a “desperately sad, thin, weak, miserable child”.
Jurors heard how the couple were able to use the restrictions of the coronavirus lockdown to abuse Arthur “with impunity” and pull the wool over the eyes of social workers and teachers.
In April 2020, Hughes’ mum lifted up her grandson’s football shirt to photograph nasty bruises to his shoulder and back.
Arthur also told Joanne Hughes that Tustin had banged his head and called him a “horrible little brat”.
She took photographs of the injuries to the boy’s shoulders before telling social services that she was “concerned” for her grandson.
But Mrs Hughes, a secondary school teacher, told jurors: “They did not want to see them. I did offer but they did not want to see them.”
Solihull Council’s children’s services team went round to the house the following day, despite Hughes’ attempts to hold the meeting in the car park of a local Screwfix.
But social workers failed to spot the bruises – despite the images being taken just 25 hours earlier.
Social worker Jayne Kavanagh and support worker Angela Scarlett-Coppage – who had previously dealt with Tustin with two of her four children – insisted there were no significant bruises to see.
But an expert said it would have taken at least three days for the marks to fade.
The workers left – satisfied that Arthur was safe and well, and took no further action.
The court heard that social services also received an anonymous call from Tustin's stepfather weeks before Arthur’s murder.
Giving evidence, John Dutton said Hughes had confessed “going to town” on Arthur.
He told jurors: “I thought he was in danger.”
Social services also told Arthur’s teachers they had "no concerns" about his well-being and that any injuries were from “boisterous play”.
But staff at Dickens Heath primary school were also caught out by Hughes’ deception during lockdown.
In welfare checks, he told teachers that Arthur was “doing grand” and had been “enjoying the sunshine and messing about the garden”.
In one exchange, he added: “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.”
By May, with the school’s calls to Hughes going unanswered, Arthur was now segregated in the small hallway and ordered to face the front door for almost the entirety of his waking hours.
After enduring the gruelling ordeal, harrowing footage captured the exhausted youngster making a makeshift bed on the living room floor – before doing it all over again.
West Midlands Police, too, missed the chance to intervene.
The force shut down a log after Arthur’s uncle also sent over photos of bruising – and threatened HIM with arrest if he broke Covid rules by going to Tustin’s house.
Daniel Hughes told the jury: “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."
The Independent Office for Police Conduct is investigating but DI Laura Harrison, who led the investigation, said professionals were “manipulated” by Tustin and Hughes during lockdown.
She said: “The professionals who would ordinarily have been involved in Arthur’s life, such as teachers, weren’t having that contact with him and spotting changes in his behaviour or bruises on his body.
“And when social workers went out to Tustin’s home there was an absolute manipulation of them by the defendants.
“They painted a very different picture of what was really going on behind closed doors.”
A Solihull Council spokesperson said: “This terrible tragedy has had a shocking impact on Arthur’s family and across the whole community. 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 Council to comment ahead of the findings of that review.”
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