A bullying father accused of murdering his six-year-old son in a ‘campaign of cruelty’ told police he will be remembered as the ‘dad who killed his son’.
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes died in hospital several hours after he was found unresponsive at a house on Cranmore Road in Shirley, near Birmingham
Thomas Hughes, 29, told police he was ‘accountable’ for the death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, whom he allegedly killed with his new partner Emma Tustin, 32, a court heard.
The couple are said to have subjected Arthur to systematic abuse ‘designed to terrorise’ the youngster.
Arthur was allegedly deprived of food, made to stand in a hallway for 14 hours a day and poisoned with salt before being fatally attacked at Tustin’s home near Solihull, West Mids, last June.
Prosecutors allege Arthur was subjected to months of cruelty by Hughes and Tustin which matched the ‘medical definition of child torture’. The pair deny murder and multiple counts of child cruelty.
During police interviews, Hughes revealed how Arthur had spent much of his waking hours during lockdown in ‘isolation’ and admitted to police: ‘I’ll be honest. Now, I’ve had a taste of it, it was the same as prison. It wasn’t nice and it was wrong.’
In transcripts read out to jurors at Coventry Crown Court, Hughes said: ‘From lockdown up until his death. He spent more of his time in isolation.
‘I can’t remember the time he was treated like a normal child by myself. I can’t remember the last time he was allowed to sit in and watch TV.’
Without the presence of a solicitor, Hughes revealed how he slapped Arthur for interrupting his fish and chips and slashed his favourite football shirt.
He told how he sent text messages telling Tustin to ‘bounce’ Arthur’s head and ‘kill him’, and said he put in ‘punishment’ rules that would see his son confined to the hallway from ‘nearly the time he would get up, to bed time’.
Thomas Hughes, 29, and his girlfriend Emma Tustin, 32, are jointly accused of murder after Arthur Labinjo-Hughes (right) was found with an ‘unsurvivable brain injury’ at his home in Solihull, Warwickshire
Emma Tustin, 32, allegedly took 12 minutes to dial 999 and took photographs of the youngster as he lay dying in the hallway
Hughes told detectives while in custody: ‘I know it doesn’t paint me in a brilliant light and I know I’m not going to be remembered as the dad that I was.
‘I’ll just be remembered as that dad who killed his son. I really didn’t want it to come to this.’
Arthur was said to have spent his waking hours ‘segregated and isolated’ in a hallway and made to sleep on a living room floor.
Hughes, speaking after being arrested and held in police custody, told detectives how he whacked Arthur’s legs for making ‘noises’ while he ate fish and chips and cut up the boy’s favourite Birmingham City football shirt in front of him.
The admissions were made to police in an interview two days after Arthur died from fatal head injuries at Birmingham Children’s Hospital on June 17, 2020.
He said: ‘I took some scissors to it and ripped it up in front of him.
‘He was upset. He had a meltdown. He loved football shirts.
‘Because I knew he loved his football shirts, I made him put another one in the bin.’
He added: ‘I ripped up his favourite blanket in front of him and put that in the bin.’
Arthur had been in the full-time care of Hughes after Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow was accused of killing her new partner, Gary Cunningham, in February 2019.
Hughes then fell ‘hook, line and sinker’ for Tustin, jurors were told, and moved into her home in Cranmore Road when the country entered lockdown in March 2020.
Hughes (left) is accused of forcing his son to endure ‘physical and psychological’ abuse in the weeks before his death
Tributes, including this BCFC teddy bear, were left outside the Hughes family home in Solihull, West Midlands
Prosecutors allege Tustin murdered the youngster when she was home alone with him, and that Hughes ‘intentionally encouraged’ the killing.
Tustin has pleaded guilty to one count of child cruelty but denies further charges of the same offence. Hughes denies all charges.
In interview, Hughes said he believed his treatment of Arthur had led to his death and described Tustin as being ‘Mother Teresa’.
He told officers: ‘I put Arthur in that position, I’m accountable for it. I don’t believe anyone else is.
‘I put Arthur in that position and I have to deal with that. I know it’s a long way off but I’m guilty, I make no bones of it.
‘I don’t want other people to suffer for my ignorance, my neglect.’
In June last year, Hughes told a neighbour in Solihull (above): ‘If you hear anyone saying “don’t kill me”, ignore it, I’m not hurting him.’
Jurors also 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.’
Under questioning, Hughes told police the texts were in the ‘heat of the moment’.
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’.
Hughes told how he hit Arthur’s head while he was unresponsive, and pulled his hair, in a bid to provoke a reaction.
He added: ‘I said to Emma phone the ambulance because she didn’t want to.’
Mr Hankin told the jury at Coventry Crown Court that ‘Arthur was made to sleep on the living room floor’ at Tustin’s home and that after his death ‘a duvet was found in a cupboard under the stairs’
Coventry Crown Court heard that when Hughes was taken into custody, he began to ‘deliberately’ hit his head more than 200 times against the cell wall.
Jurors were told how Arthur’s wider family had raised concerns with social services and police in April 2020 after finding bruises on his back.
His grandmother, Joanne Hughes, took photographs of the injuries to the boy’s back before telling social services that she was ‘concerned’ for her grandson.
Uncle Daniel Hughes claimed he also sent photos of the youngster’s bruises to police after attempting to visit Tustin’s home with other family members, but never heard back.
Earlier in the trial, a medical expert said he believed Arthur was shaken and slammed with ‘very severe’ force.
Consultant neuropathologist Daniel Du Plessis said that the chances of Arthur causing himself fatal head injuries were ‘inconceivable’.
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.