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Arthur Labinjo-Hughes

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes died in June 2020 aged six years old following months of abuse and neglect.

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes early years

Arthur’s parents Thomas Hughes and Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow separated when Arthur was one year old and he lived with his mother while both shared custody of Arthur. However, in February 2019, Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow stabbed her new abusive partner to death in an alcohol and drug fuelled rage. She is currently in jail for the manslaughter of 29-year-old delivery driver Gary Cunningham in their home.

Following Olivia’s conviction, Thomas Hughes became the primary carer for Arthur and both lived with Thomas Hughes’ parents in an annexe behind their house. Hughes met Tustin on a dating website and on the day of lockdown in March 2020, Thomas and Arthur were staying at Tustin’s house and they decided to merge households at her house for lockdown.

In May 2020, Hughes and Tustin’s treatment of Arthur worsened. He was made to stand for hours as punishment and Tustin would send Hughes videos and clips of Arthur crying. The couple repeatedly insulted the child referring to him as ‘devilchild’and the clips revealed Arthur calling for help from his grandmother and uncle with whom he had a close bond and saying ‘nobody loves me’. Arthur was removed from the bedroom where Tustin’s children slept and was forced to sleep on the living room floor even when Tustin’s children slept elsewhere.

Abuse, neglect and Arthur’s death

When schools re-opened in June, Arthur didn’t attend and Hughes made up excuses to the school for the child’s absence. The couple installed a camera to observe Arthur during periods of isolation. Over a three-day period from 12-14 June, Arthur was isolated for 25 hours in a hallway while Tustin’s children could be seen enjoying food and activities. On 15 June, Hughes hit Arthur with a belt on his legs and at one point told Tustin to ‘just end him’.

On 16 June, CCTV footage showed Arthur looking weak. Tustin, Hughes and Arthur visited Tustin’s hairdresser and while there, Arthur was repeatedly shouted at.

After they arrived home, Hughes went out around 1pm leaving Arthur with Tustin and Tustin is believed to have carried out a fatal assault at 2:29 pm. She called Hughes on the phone and CCTV footage showed her moving thew child and trying to prop him up on the sofa. Hughes returned home and they tried to give the child a drink and paracetamol medicine and only then, 12 minutes later, did Tustin call 999 and tell medics that Arthur had "fell and banged his head and while on the floor banged his head another five times". Paramedics found Arthur unconscious and tended to him having arrived to find a neighbour performing CPR on the six-year-old. Arthur had bruising to his head and body, seemed under-weight and his gums were bleeding. He was taken to hospital but sadly despite the best efforts of medical staff he died at 1am the following morning.

Arthur was left with a brain injury which he was unable to survive. Tustin took a photo of the dying boy, which she sent to Hughes.

Arthur was taken to Birmingham Children's Hospital, however, it was decided that nothing could be done to save him and he died later that night aged six years old. At the time of his death, a medical review found that he was covered in 130 bruises, that he had been poisoned with salt, and that the extent of his injuries amounted to torture.

Police investigation

The accounts given by Hughes and his partner Tustin, differed but revolved around Arthur’s behaviour being poor and him banging his own head off the floor. Due to the nature of Arthur’s injuries and the accounts given by Tustin and Hughes, they were arrested on suspicion of murder.

West Midlands police investigators trawled through hours of CCTV from inside Tustin’s home along with hundreds of videos, audio files and photos found on Tustin’s and Hughes' mobile phones, and thousands of messages they sent each other. The evidence they revealed clearly illustrated the systematic cruelty inflicted on Arthur by both Tustin and Hughes.

Police worked with medical experts from various areas of clinical medicine and pathology to show that the six-year-old's death had been caused by a head trauma inflicted on him by an adult and the most likely way that happened was by him being vigorously shaken and his head banged repeatedly against a hard surface.

Det Insp Harrison at West Midlands Police said: “It’s not clear why Tustin and Hughes started to make Arthur’s place in his family home so truly awful and why they caused him such harm and suffering – but that harm and suffering was sustained and escalated over time.

“Nor is it clear why the couple installed a CCTV camera in their own living room, but sadly that footage has proved invaluable in demonstrating some of the hardships, emotional abuse and physical violence Arthur endured behind closed doors.”

Salt poisoning, bruising and fatal blow to the head

Hospital tests revealed Arthur had abnormally high salt-levels and he was seen to have bruising in many areas uncommon for accidental bruising in a child. A post-mortem later revealed that Arthur had over 100 marks and bruises on his head, body and limbs including bruising of different ages.

A number of medical experts told the court that they did not believe the injuries Arthur had could have been self-inflicted; that a child of six simply could not have generated enough force to have caused the fatal injury to his own head.

A specialist kidney consultant, said that for Arthur to have had such high levels of salt in his system, he had either ingested at least six and half tablespoons of salt on the day he was fatally injured which the expert couldn’t see how a child would have done this, other than if he was deliberately force-fed a mix of salt and water by an adult or that Arthur had repeatedly been poisoned with heavily contaminated food and/or water over a longer period of time.

Guilty

Emma Tustin was found guilty of the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Thomas Hughes was found guilty of manslaughter by a jury at Coventry Crown Court.

The couple also faced four charges of cruelty to a child. On the opening day of the trial on 5 October 2021, Tustin pleaded guilty to one charge of wilfully ill-treating Arthur on multiple occasions by forced standing, isolation and intimidation.

In the final days of the trial Tustin admitted a second charge of child cruelty, namely assaulting Arthur on multiple occasions.

However, she was also convicted of two further charges of cruelty by withholding food and drink and by administering salt.

Hughes was also convicted on two counts of cruelty, by forced standing, isolation and intimidation, and also by assaulting Arthur. He was cleared of murder, cruelty by withholding food and drink and by administering salt.

Emma Tustin was jailed for life with a minimum of 29 years after she was found guilty of murdering Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. His father Thomas Hughes was convicted of his manslaughter and jailed for 21 years.

Government review

Following the court case, the government launched a major review into the circumstances leading up to the murder of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes to determine what improvements are needed by the agencies that came into contact with him in the months before he died.

The independent, national review led by the National Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel will identify the lessons that must be learnt from Arthur’s case for the benefit of other children elsewhere in England.

The national review will provide additional support to Solihull Children’s Safeguarding Partnership and will effectively ‘upgrade’ the existing local review, which was launched shortly after Arthur’s death in June 2020 and paused while the court case continued.

Joint inspection

The government also commissioned a Joint Targeted Area Inspection by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, and HM Inspectorate of Probation which will consider where improvements are needed by all the agencies tasked with protecting vulnerable children in Solihull, including in how they work together.

Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “I have taken immediate action and asked for a joint inspection to consider where improvements are needed by all the agencies tasked with protecting children in Solihull, so that we can be assured that we are doing everything in our power to protect other children and prevent such evil crimes.

“Given the enormity of this case, the range of agencies involved and the potential for its implications to be felt nationally, I have also asked Annie Hudson, chair of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, to work with leaders in Solihull to deliver a single, national review of Arthur’s death to identify where we must learn from this terrible case,” added Mr Zahawi.

Social workers

Speaking to Parliament in December, the education secretary highlighted that while the public deserve to know why, in this rare case, things went horrifyingly wrong and what more could be done to prevent abuse such as this from happening again, no safeguarding professional should become the victim of abuse following the public outcry in reaction to Arthur’s death.

“I make it clear that police officers, teachers, social workers, health workers and others go to work each day to try to make things better and to do their best at what are very difficult jobs. Those already serving our country’s most vulnerable children deserve our thanks, and I want to be extremely clear that no safeguarding professional should be the victim of abuse. The targeting of individuals is wrong and helps nobody, but that does not mean we should not seek to understand what went wrong and how we can stop it happening again,” said Mr Zahawi.

“When I was children and families Minister, I was the champion of social workers, and I will continue to be the champion of social workers as Secretary of State,” he added.

Support from chief social workers

The chief social workers in England also emphasised support for the social work profession following the media coverage of the death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. https://www.willispalmer.com/chief-social-workers-support-the-profession-following-arthurs-death/

Chief children’s social worker Isabelle Trowler and her equivalent for adult services Lyn Romeo have written to all social workers after recognising “the strength of feeling and collective shock from the public about the cruel treatment” to which Arthur was subjected, and acknowledging “that this creates a difficult context for your practice, as social workers”.

In a letter to all social workers, the chief social workers said: “The part you play in supporting and protecting the country’s most vulnerable children, adults and families makes a positive difference each and every single day. We condemn those targeting abuse towards individual social workers and the social work profession.”

Reaction

Councillor Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council

“As Leader of Solihull Council, I am deeply shocked and appalled at the death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes at the hands of his father and his partner.

“They have rightly been convicted and given long custodial sentences.

“Quite understandably there has been a strong and heartfelt reaction from across our borough and nationally.

“This reaction has focused on Arthur’s father and his partner and also on how we have worked as a safeguarding partnership in Arthur’s tragically short life.

“I am very clear that we will leave no stone unturned to understand, learn and fix any issues that the independent review finds and any further actions that may come about through subsequent reviews and inspections.”

BASW

“Whilst we await the outcome of essential reviews, we cannot ignore that social work is under enormous pressure. Despite the hard work and dedication of social work practitioners and those that work with children’s services, child protection is a complex issue that requires appropriate funding, resources, and time to form meaningful relationships.

“Referral rates to children’s services have risen nearly every year. There have also been cuts in community services, such as Sure Start centres, which can erode the ability to appropriately balance our preventative work and support alongside necessary child protection interventions.

“We must also be mindful of the impact of poverty and austerity policies.

“Overall, we must be reflective not only as professionals but also as a society. Effective safeguarding is not about one social worker or one individual.

“The protection and care of our children are best done in partnership with agencies across health, social care and the police, as well as the families, the children, and the community as a whole.

“Safeguarding our children is everybody’s responsibility, and we must all get better at listening to each other with the appropriate time and resources to do so.

“We must also reflect on the impact of the pandemic and lockdowns. They provided unique challenges for many social workers, specifically regarding the increased invisibility of vulnerable children.

“Social workers were complying with national measures, still knocking on doors and making doorstep visits to keep an eye on vulnerable children. However, it is a simple fact that children became less visible with schools closed.”

Association of Directors of Children’s Services

ADCS President Charlotte Ramsden said: “The death of a child at the hands of those who should love and care for them is both heart-breaking and contemptible. Whilst ADCS does not comment on individual cases it is important to comment on the child protection system at this sad time. Significant strides have been made in recent decades to help improve our ability to safeguard children; the use of relationship based practice models, our knowledge of effective interventions and the embedding of multi-agency working have all played a role. The creation of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel to support the sector to maintain a focus on learning and reflecting on lessons is vital, however there is always more learning to be done.

“As well as learning lessons and improving systems when things do not go as planned, children’s services need the ability to meet the needs of children and families as early as possible to avoid escalation. The commitment to family hubs and the Supporting Families Programme signals a growing recognition of the vital importance of early help systems which are central to identifying children who experience vulnerabilities and working with families to safeguard children.

“Over the course of the pandemic, local authorities and partners have continued to support all children and families, especially those with the most acute needs. The social restrictions introduced to protect wider public health unfortunately added a layer of extra complexity to what is already an incredibly complex and challenging area of work. Sadly, it is not possible to eliminate all risk.

“Any death of a child is tragic. In recent years, there have been advancements in the public debate surrounding such tragedies and increased public awareness of the impact of abuse and neglect. Whilst there is still a long way to go, this has led to stronger multi-agency working and a greater understanding of the complexities professionals face when deciding how and when to intervene in family life.

“The Care Review is grappling with many of these issues and as leaders of one part of the multi-agency safeguarding system, along with the police and health service, we continue to engage with the review to make sure any recommendations for systemic change best meet the needs of children and young people.”

NSPCC

The government has announced a national review into Arthur’s death. We welcome this and will be challenging the government to follow through decisively at all levels of the child protection system.

In 2020/21, the NSPCC helpline received almost 85,000 contacts from adults with concerns about the wellbeing of a child. This was a 23% increase compared to the previous year.

Everyone has a role to play in keeping children safe. This must be a watershed moment in which the UK asks difficult questions about what can be done, nationally, and locally in our own communities, to keep children safe.

Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC CEO, said:  “Up and down the country people are remembering Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. Everyone at the NSPCC is utterly shocked and our hearts go out especially to those who sensed something was horribly wrong and tried to get help to him. What happened to him was horrendous and heart-breaking.

“At times like this, people turn to the NSPCC for reassurance and advice. It is not easy to find words at times of such emotion so I am hugely grateful to those who have been speaking out for us on TV, radio and in the press in recent days – responding to the verdict and underlining the need for lessons to be learnt and even more importantly, to be acted upon.

“On Sunday morning, the government announced a national review into Arthur’s death.  

“We agree no stone should be left unturned in working out exactly what took place before Arthur died and whether more could have been done to protect and ultimately save him. We welcome this announcement and will be challenging the government to follow through decisively at all levels of the child protection system.”

Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel report

In May 2022, the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel published it’s review into the deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson.

The independent panel commissions reviews of serious child safeguarding cases and wants national and local reviews to focus on improving learning, professional practice and outcomes for children.

This national review was initiated in the context of widespread public distress about the circumstances of the deaths of these children that followed the conclusion of the two murder trials. Understandable questions were asked about why children had experienced such horrific abuse and suffering when they were seemingly in ‘plain sight’ of public agencies.

It makes clear that both Arthur and Star died during the COVID19 pandemic.

The Panel identified a set of issues which hindered professionals’ understanding of what was happening to Arthur and Star:

  • Weaknesses in information sharing and seeking within and between agencies.
  • A lack of robust critical thinking and challenge within and between agencies, compounded by a failure to trigger statutory multi-agency child protection processes at a number of key moments.
  • A need for sharper specialist child protection skills and expertise, especially in relation to complex risk assessment and decision making; engaging reluctant parents; understanding the daily life of children; and domestic abuse.
  • Underpinning these issues, is the need for leaders to have a powerful enabling impact on child protection practice, creating and protecting the optimum organisational conditions for undertaking this complex work.

The Panel states that the design of multi-agency child protection arrangements is sometimes inhibiting professionals from having a clear, accurate and contemporaneous picture of what is happening to a child and their family. The child’s story is often held by multiple people in multiple places, the detail of which is constantly evolving. This means that it can be extremely difficult to build and maintain an accurate sense of what life is actually like for a child, without a forensic focus held by a consistent set of multi-disciplinary professionals who are charged with pulling together the disparate parts of the jigsaw of a child’s life.

Furthermore, there is value in the concept of safeguarding being ‘everyone’s business’ but its meaning has become too broad and elastic. As a consequence, there has been distraction and drift away from the need to make sure that those investigating and responding to abuse and neglect have the right specialist expertise. A stronger focus on the specialist skills required to work with this relatively small but extremely vulnerable group of children should lead to more clearly differentiated responses to concerns about abuse and neglect.

As a result, the review recommended Multi-Agency Child Protection Units, integrated and co-located multi-agency teams staffed by experienced child protection professionals, are established in every local authority area.

The teams would comprise of professionals with the highest levels of child protection expertise and experience and will see the key child protection agencies of the police, health and social care working together seamlessly as a single team.

The Panel outlines further proposals for strengthened multi-agency leadership and accountability, and for better multi-agency co-ordination and system oversight from central government. It also recommends that new National Multi-Agency Practice Standards are developed for child protection, to help deliver consistently good practice across the country. Local area child protection practice across all agencies should be substantially and frequently inspected to ensure these national standards are met.

The review sets out an overview of Arthur’s story.

Arthur’s mother and father separated in November 2015. Arthur continued to live with his mother but his father, Thomas Hughes, maintained a fully involved role in Arthur’s life as a co-parent alongside Olivia, Arthur’s mother. Arthur had extensive contact with both sets of grandparents and extended family members, who played a positive role in his life. Professionals had not recorded any significant concerns about Arthur’s welfare prior to June 2018.

After Olivia was convicted of manslaughter following the domestic-related murder of her then partner, Gary Cunningham and received a significant term of imprisonment, a Children in Need assessment was carried out by Birmingham Children’s Trust (BCT). It concluded with no further action required for the Trust, but with recommendations for help and support from other agencies.

Following his mother’s arrest, Arthur was cared for by his father. A further Children in Need assessment by BCT also concluded with no further action for the Trust. Arthur’s father was assessed to be a ‘protective factor’ for him. They lived with Arthur’s paternal grandparents and Arthur moved to a new school and settled well.

Contact with his mother ceased

Initially Arthur had telephone contact with his mother three times a week but this ceased in October 2019, as his father stopped the contact between Arthur and his mother, his maternal grandmother and the maternal extended family. In December 2019, his mother initiated the process to establish contact arrangements with Arthur again through a Child Arrangement Order. The Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) therefore became involved with Arthur.

Arthur’s father Thomas and the school both raised concerns about Arthur’s behaviour and emotional wellbeing in October 2019. These concerns led to a referral to SOLAR5 (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) from his GP in January 2020. Arthur was assessed by SOLAR for specialist support on 4th March 2020 but was not offered a service. On the same day, Arthur was seen by a CAFCASS officer in the course of the completion of a Section 7 report for the Family Court. The report in April 2020 recommended that Arthur should have only indirect contact with his mother in the form of letters.

Thomas began a relationship with Emma Tustin in autumn 2019. She was previously known to children’s social care and other agencies in Solihull, including the police, Community Mental Health Team (CMHT), and Solihull Community Housing. There was a history of domestic abuse with Emma Tustin as both victim and perpetrator. Thomas and Arthur moved into Emma Tustin’s home on 23rd March 2020, when the UK entered the first period of national lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 14th April, Arthur and his father stayed overnight at the paternal grandparents’ house following a disagreement between Thomas and Emma. On 16th April, Thomas and Emma reconciled their differences. Thomas and Arthur returned to Emma’s address, despite strongly expressed misgivings from the paternal grandparents, who were concerned about the return to what they saw as an abusive situation for Arthur.

Late in the evening on 16th April, Arthur’s paternal grandmother contacted the Solihull Emergency Duty Team (EDT) regarding bruising to Arthur’s back and scratches on his face that she had noticed when Arthur had been staying. She questioned the explanation given by Arthur’s father that the bruising was a result of a playfight between Arthur and Emma’s son. Solihull MASH decided that the concerns about bruising warranted a home visit. According to the social worker’s case recording from the visit, a scratch on Arthur’s face and a faded bruise on his back were observed. No safeguarding concerns were identified from the visit.

Family members raised concerns

Family members continued to express their concerns. There were further contacts to children’s social care, the police, and Arthur’s school. The photographs of the marks on Arthur were considered by children’s social care once they arrived in the MASH from Arthur’s maternal grandmother on April 24th. They indicated more extensive and severe bruising than the practitioners reported seeing during their visit on 17th April. This was a very significant moment to re-assess the risk to Arthur in the light of important new evidence of potential physical abuse. The concern and uncertainty on the causation and timing of these injuries should have prompted a strategy discussion and advice sought from health professionals. Instead, it was concluded that the bruising seen in the photographs could be consistent with the adults’ explanation that there had been a playfight between the two boys. Accordingly, it was decided that no further investigation was needed in relation to the family’s concerns about bruising.

The case was closed to children’s social care.

On 16th June, emergency services were called to Emma Tustin’s address in response to a report of Arthur being in cardiac arrest. Arthur had sustained a substantial head injury. The ambulance crew raised concerns regarding Arthur's presentation. He was described as looking unkempt, with bruising on his body. Arthur died from his injuries.

The explanations for Arthur’s injuries given by Thomas Hughes and Emma Tustin were not considered plausible. They were arrested and subsequently charged with the offence of causing or allowing the death of a child. In court proceedings concluded on 1st December 2021, Emma Tustin was convicted of murder and Thomas Hughes of manslaughter.

The report highlighted that there was not proper consideration of the risks to Arthur of his father’s decision to move in with Emma Tustin, particularly given her previous involvement with various agencies.

The review also highlighted that Arthur’s wider family members were not listened to, despite their many attempts to get agencies to look into what might be happening to Arthur. Their views were not sought and their concerns were not taken seriously. Family members and other connected adults can speak on behalf of the child and enable their voice to be heard.

Furthermore, the response to concerns about bruising to Arthur was undermined by the lack of a multi-agency strategy discussion, which should always be triggered when there are allegations about the suspected abuse of children.

“Our conclusion is that a pivotal dynamic underpinning many of these practice issues was a systemic flaw in the quality of multi-agency working. There was an overreliance on single agency processes with superficial joint working and joint decision making. This had very significant consequences. The nature of the assessments and decisions that child protection professionals are being asked to make are extremely complex. They cannot do it alone. Robust multi-agency working is critical to the challenging work of uncovering what is really happening to children who are being abused,” the report concluded.

Child Protection in England

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