A grandmother reported bruises on her six-year-old grandson to social services but was never asked for the photos two months before he was murdered by his father and stepmother, a court heard today.
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, six, was allegedly killed after suffering systemic abuse which matched the ‘medical definition of child torture’, including being deprived of food, made to stand for 14 hours a day and poisoned with salt before being fatally attacked.
His father Thomas Hughes, 29, and stepmother Emma Tustin, 32, deny murdering Arthur at their home near Solihull, West Midlands, in June 2020. They also pleaded not guilty multiple counts of child cruelty.
Today, a trial at Coventry Crown Court today heard how Arthur’s paternal grandmother, Joanne Hughes, noticed bruises on the boy’s shoulders after visiting the family home in April and reported it to social services that same day – just two months before he collapsed with fatal brain injuries.
Earlier the trial heard how teachers had also expressed worries about Arthur’s welfare but social services told them they had ‘no concerns’.
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, six, was allegedly killed after suffering systemic abuse which matched the ‘medical definition of child torture’. His father Thomas Hughes, 29, and stepmother Emma Tustin, 32, deny murder and child abuse
Tustin (pictured) and Hughes are said to have subjected Arthur to systematic cruelty ‘designed to torture’ the youngster
On a visit to her home, Mrs Hughes told how Arthur confided that Tustin had also 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 the secondary school teacher told jurors: ‘They did not want to see them. I did offer but they did not want to see them.
‘They asked me if I would be willing to have Arthur at our house and I said ”of course”. I asked several questions of them to clarify certain points and then they said that they would get back to me.
‘They asked if I wanted to remain anonymous to which I said no, and they said they would get back to me.
‘I asked if I would be told the outcome and was told ”yes”. I asked the same question [the following day] and was told ‘no, because you’re just a grandparent’.’
Mrs Hughes told how she lifted Arthur’s Liverpool FC top to discover the bruising, shortly after he had complained of being assaulted by Tustin.
She said: ‘We were in the garden and Arthur was playing with the next door neighbour; he held his head.
‘And I said ‘have you bumped your head?’. He said to me ‘that’s where Emma grabbed me and pushed my head on the stairs’.
‘I asked him to repeat it and he told me that she called him a horrible little brat and she pushed his head and he bumped it on the stairs.’
Arthur collapsed with ‘unsurvivable brain injuries’ on Tuesday, June 16, and died the following day at Birmingham children’s hospital
Hughes denied Tustin had injured Arthur, and claimed her three-year-old son had attacked Arthur with an umbrella, Mrs Hughes said.
Giving evidence, she said she did not accept the explanation and asked her son to leave Arthur with her and husband, Christopher.
She said: ‘He said ‘no, he’s my son’. ‘He will be looked after fine, no one is going to hurt him’.
‘I said ‘that’s fine but if that’s your final answer I will phone social services’.’
Prosecutors allege Arthur was subjected to months of cruelty by Hughes and Tustin which matched the ‘medical definition of child torture’.
They are both alleged to have neglected and abused Arthur, including by poisoning him with salt.
The court heard how Arthur spent hours ‘segregated and isolated’ in a hallway at Tustin’s home, and was made to sleep on a living room floor.
Prior to moving to the address during the first pandemic lockdown, Hughes and Arthur were living in an annex at Mrs Hughes’s home.
Mother-of-two Tustin began visiting frequently after striking up a relationship online with Hughes in late 2019, the court heard.
Hughes (left) is accused of forcing his son to endure ‘physical and psychological’ abuse in the weeks before his death
Mrs Hughes told jurors that on one occasion she saw Tustin bring over a pink chair that her son described as the ‘naughty chair’.
She told jurors that after alerting social services on April 16, 2020, she then found a piece of paper in the annex titled ‘chair rules’.
Underneath it read ‘rude to mummy bear/dad – one hour each’, ‘poor attitude – 20 minutes’, ‘naughty – 40 minutes’, ‘talking like a baby – 10 minutes’, ‘weeing on toilet seat – 10 minutes’.
The document, shown to jurors on a screen, listed ‘additional time’ for crying on the chair.
Tustin’s barrister Mary Prior, QC, said her client had used the pink chair with her own children and had referred to it as a ‘thinking chair’.
Mrs Hughes said she thought the use of the chair was ‘cruel’.
Arthur collapsed on Tuesday June 16, and died the following day at Birmingham children’s hospital.
Prosecutors allege Tustin murdered the youngster and that Hughes ‘intentionally encouraged’ the killing.
Mrs Hughes said she saw a decline in Arthur in 2020, describing him previously as being a ‘happy child – a joy’. She said her dislike of Tustin ‘grew and grew’.
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes (pictured above with his father), six, was found with dozens of bruises from his head to his feet, post-mortem examinations showed
Social services told Arthur’s teachers they had ‘no concerns’ about his well-being, the jury was told this week.
Teacher Michelle Hull, a safeguarding lead at Dickens Heath primary school, said she was alerted to Mrs Hughes’s social services referral.
Describing what social services told her when she made enquiries over the referral, Ms Hull told the court: ‘They said they’d seen Arthur and that the injuries were from boisterous play. That the family relationship seemed OK. And they had no concerns.’
She added that social services told her she ‘wasn’t allowed to share any information with Arthur’s grandmother because [parental] consent hadn’t been given’.
In a 999 call made 12 minutes after Arthur was found unresponsive, Tustin claimed his head injuries were self-inflicted. She claimed he had ‘banged his head while on the floor on all fours’.
Tustin has pleaded guilty to one count of child cruelty but denies further charges of the same offence. Hughes denies all charges.
Jurors heard text messages between Hughes and Tustin talking of alleged abuse.
In one message, Hughes threatened to ‘take his jaw off his shoulders’ and told Tustin: ‘Just gag him or something. Tie some rope around his mouth with a sock in it or something.’
Opening the trial, Jonas Hankin, QC, told jurors: ‘Both defendants participated in a campaign of cruelty intended to cause Arthur significant harm and suffering.
‘Violence and intimidation, both physical and verbal, were routine.
‘Arthur’s visible injuries, his miserable physical condition and obvious despair provided each defendant with a daily reminder of the lengths to which the other would go to cause him harm.’
The trial continues.