What happened to Arthur Labinjo-Hughes? How Emma Tustin and Thomas Hughes tortured and killed six-year-old boy

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An independent review into how social services responded to the child’s treatment is being carried out

The jail sentences of the couple who killed six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes are to be reviewed, the Attorney General has confirmed.

Emma Tustin was jailed for life on Friday for the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, while his father Thomas Hughes, 29, who was convicted of his son’s manslaughter after encouraging the killing was jailed for 21 years.

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The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) confirmed on Saturday afternoon that the sentences are to be reviewed to “determine whether they were too low”.

Tustin, who also fed Arthur salt-laced meals, has had salt thrown at her by inmates while she was on remand.

Audio and video clips recorded in the final weeks of Arthur’s life revealed he was “scarcely able to articulate his words” and could no longer support his own weight by the time of his murder.

Even Tustin admitted in court that it was “horrendous” to listen to and watch footage of him captured on her mobile phone and CCTV cameras inside her lounge.

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The 32-year-old was convicted of murdering the boy after inflicting an “unsurvivable” brain injury on the boy during a vicious assault, while home alone with the boy, on June 16, 2020. She must serve at least 29 years.

Undated family handout file photo issued by West Midlands Police of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.Undated family handout file photo issued by West Midlands Police of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.
Undated family handout file photo issued by West Midlands Police of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.

What happened to six-year-old Arthur

Tustin carried out the fatal assault while in sole care of Arthur at her home in Cranmore Road, Solihull, violently shaking him and repeatedly banging his head, likely against the hallway wall.

She then callously took a photograph of the unconscious youngster on her mobile phone, while he lay dying in her hall, then sending the image to Hughes.

Tustin then took 12 minutes to call 999, instead first ringing Hughes, before lying to medics and later police that Arthur “fell and banged his head and while on the floor banged his head another five times”.

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She then claimed at trial he must have thrown himself down the stairs, despite evidence he was so starved he was barely able to pick up his own bedding, or stand.

Hughes, of Stroud Road, Solihull, was convicted of manslaughter after encouraging the killing by his actions, including sending a text message to Tustin 18 hours before the fatal assault telling her “just end him”.

On one occasion before his death, Arthur had told his father: “I am in danger with you, dad.”

The pair “de-humanised” Arthur, prosecutors said, with Tustin convicted of two counts of child cruelty by forcing him to eat salt-laced meals and starving the child, while also depriving him of water with Hughes cleared of those offences.

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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”.

Tustin admitted two other counts of child cruelty, by wilfully assaulting the boy and isolating him in the home by making him stand up to 14 hours a day in the hallway with jurors convicting Hughes on both those counts.

The “chubby, happy” and “always smiley” boy, was left a weakened and frail shadow of himself, with one witness describing how he looked “broken” just before his death.

Tests later revealed Arthur had also been “poisoned with salt” in the hours before his collapse.

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Emma Tustin, who has been convicted of murder and her partner Thomas Hughes were found guilty of the manslaughter at Coventry Crown Court of his six-year-old son Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.Emma Tustin, who has been convicted of murder and her partner Thomas Hughes were found guilty of the manslaughter at Coventry Crown Court of his six-year-old son Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.
Emma Tustin, who has been convicted of murder and her partner Thomas Hughes were found guilty of the manslaughter at Coventry Crown Court of his six-year-old son Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.

Who is Emma Tustin?

It emerged at the trial of Tustin and Hughes at Coventry Crown Court that Arthur had only been in his father’s care, after his natural mother Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, was jailed for killing her boyfriend.

Hughes and Labinjo-Halcrow had shared custody of their son, until her arrest for killing 29-year-old delivery driver Gary Cunningham in their home at Frensham Way, Birmingham, in February 2019.

The attack on Arthur happened the day before “coercive” and “controlling” Tustin’s birthday.

She had been pregnant with Hughes child, but after being charged, she aborted the couple’s unborn child at 21 weeks without telling Hughes, while on remand in prison.

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Tustin alone had more than 200 audio recordings of Arthur on her phone. In many he can be heard asking to go and see other members of his family. In others he can be heard begging for help; saying that he’s not being fed and he needs food and a drink.

The discipline started soon after the couple sparked up a “volatile and dysfunctional” relationship from August 2019.

Detective Inspector Laura Harrison, the West Midlands Police officer who led the investigation said: “I think Emma Tustin wanted a family unit and that didn’t include Arthur for some reason.”

In a heartbreaking picture Arthur can be seen leaning against Tustin with his arms around her, while Tustin has her back turned away from the six-year-old.

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Arthur Labinjo-Hughes with his father Thomas Hughes and Thomas' partner Emma Tustin.Arthur Labinjo-Hughes with his father Thomas Hughes and Thomas' partner Emma Tustin.
Arthur Labinjo-Hughes with his father Thomas Hughes and Thomas' partner Emma Tustin. | PA

Since being locked up she has had “salt thrown at her” by other inmates while on remand at HMP Peterborough for her trial.

An HMP Peterborough spokesman said: “We do not comment on individual prisoners.”

As well as being targeted with salt, Tustin was also threatened with violence by other prisoners in the run-up to her trial.

At a pre-trial hearing in April 2021, Tustin’s barrister said her client had been receiving “significant and substantial threats”, although it is unclear if she was at the same prison at the time.

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What has the Attorney General’s office said?

The AGO has 28 days from the date of sentence to review a case, assess whether it falls under the Unduly Lenient Sentence (ULS) scheme, and make a decision as to whether to refer a sentence to the Court of Appeal.

A spokesperson for the AGO said: “The Attorney General’s thoughts are with those who loved Arthur. I can confirm that the sentences given to Emma Tustin and Thomas Hughes have been referred to the Attorney General for review to determine whether they were too low.”

The Court of Appeal then makes the decision about the sentence.

Policing minister Kit Malthouse has said he would like to see Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’s father and stepmother given whole-life sentences.

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“Yes I would. I was surprised that they didn’t,” he said when asked on Times Radio.

It comes after Solihull MP Julian Knight, who laid flowers at the shrine for Arthur, said on Twitter he would be referring the sentences for review.

He said: “I’ve just laid flowers at the shrine for young Arthur, lots of touching tributes from local residents and people around Solihull.

“There’s a palpable sense of real loss and tragedy over this and also frankly a sense of anger and questions as to how this was allowed to happen, how these monsters were allowed to inflict this horrible torture on this young defenceless boy.

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Why is an independent review being carried out?

During the trial jurors heard how Solihull Council social workers visited the boy at Tustin’s Cranmore Road home, in the borough, on April 17 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 April 16, of the deep purple-coloured bruises were then later sent to social services by Ms Hughes, on April 24.

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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 on to her by a manager.

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

Solihull’s Local Child Safeguarding Partnership said it was now carrying 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.

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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.

What has been said about the case?

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”.

An NSPCC spokesman said “The cruelty of Hughes and Tustin and the pain and suffering they inflicted on Arthur before they killed him almost defies belief.”

Former children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield said very vulnerable children “have continued to slip from view”, and that she is “heartbroken” and “sickened” by the killing of six-year-old Arthur.

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She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “For anyone who looks at the serious case reviews, or hears about them, that come after a child’s death, you will see the same things coming up time and time again – missed opportunities, lack of co-ordination, lack of data-sharing – the things that professionals need to have at hand to be able to protect these children, which still aren’t in place.”

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