Emma Tustin, 32, and 29-year-old Thomas Hughes both killed Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, who suffered an “unsurvivable” brain injury on June 16, 2020
A dad and stepmum accused of cruelly abusing, poisoning and killing his six-year-old son have been found guilty.
Emma Tustin, 32, and 29-year-old Thomas Hughes went on trial after little Arthur Labinjo-Hughes suffered an “unsurvivable” brain injury during lockdown in June 2020.
During the eight-week trial at Coventry Crown Court, jurors heard Tustin carried out the fatal assault while she had sole care of Arthur.
She allegedly fetched her mobile phone immediately afterwards to take a photograph of the youngster as he lay dying in the hallway of her home in Solihull, West Midlands.
Tustin was today found guilty of murder and Hughes of manslaughter.
The trial heard an audio recording in which Arthur can be heard saying “no-one loves me”, and another in which he cried “no-one’s gonna feed me”.
Haunting video footage shows the moment he struggled to lift a light duvet and struggled to stand just hours before he died.
Hughes, of Solihull, was accused of encouraging the killing, including by sending a text message to Tustin 18 hours before the fatal assault telling her “just end him”.
Prosecutors claimed the pair carried out a “campaign of cruelty” amounting to “torture” against Arthur, in which he was force-fed salt-laced meals, kept isolated in the home, starved, dehydrated and routinely beaten.
The usually “chubby, happy” and “always smiley” boy moved into Tustin’s home at the start of the first national lockdown in March 2020, but one witness described how he looked “broken” just before his death less than three months later.
Jurors were told that tests later revealed Arthur had also been “poisoned with salt” in the hours before his collapse, while a post-mortem examination found the youngster had suffered about 130 separate injuries.
Tustin had already admitted two counts of child cruelty during the trial, including carrying out three assaults on the boy and also making him sit or stand in her hallway for up to 14 hours a day as part of a behavioural regime.
She has accepted making 200 audio recordings of Arthur, often crying and moaning during these punishments, claiming she did so only to send them to Hughes in order to demonstrate the boy’s “naughty” behaviour while he was absent.
Some of these extracts were played to the court, including one in which the boy can be heard saying “no-one loves me”, and another in which he cried “no-one’s gonna feed me”.
Hughes, in evidence, alleged Tustin “mentally abused” and “gaslighted” him into complying with the punishing disciplinary regime, but also admitted lying to school staff who were checking on Arthur’s progress during the first Covid lockdown.
He previously said he had “probably” placed the couple’s relationship above the welfare of his son.
Tustin, who has accepted being cruel to Arthur on occasions and was pregnant with Hughes’ unborn child at the time, has said she was “disgusted and ashamed” by her admitted behaviour.
But she claimed that Arthur’s fatal head injury must have been self-inflicted, possibly caused by him throwing himself down the staircase in her hallway, and describing how she heard a “bang” and a “crack”.
During her evidence, she said that just because medical experts had concluded Arthur’s death had been caused by head trauma “inflicted upon him by an adult”, that “doesn’t make it true”.
The mum of tragic lad described her son as “the light of my life” in a moving statement.
Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, 27, said the abuse he suffered was “harrowing and incomparable”.
The jailed mum, who is serving an 11-year prison term for killing her boyfriend in 2019, said her son was “my best friend”.
In a statement from her prison cell, she described him as a “beautiful little boy that I knew and loved deeply”.
She wrote: “The details of Arthur’s case are harrowing and incomparable. But I want people to know who Arthur was, from his huge smile and personality to his gentle and caring nature.
“All mothers are biased and believe that their children are the best, and I’m no different. From the moment Arthur was born he filled my life with joy. He was always smiling and had the most inquisitive little mind.
“Arthur’s super power was his smile.”
The sheer cruelty of the couple was played out in the courtroom over two months.
Texts between them showed their feelings towards the little boy, whose mother was previously jailed for the manslaughter of her boyfriend.
In brutal messages, Hughes told Tustin to ‘just end’ Arthur and also ‘take his jaw off’ and ‘gag’ him. He also threatened to ‘take his neck off’ and ‘dash my food off his head’.
The day before the child died, his dad texted about paying someone to ‘dig Arthur’s grave’.
Tustin was equally vile, the court was told
In one message she said ‘f****** launch this lying little f***’ and in another she warned she was ‘going to chin this little c***’.
The boy would still be alive if the Covid-19 lockdown had not happened, detectives believe.
Arthur was living with his paternal grandparents, who “loved and cherished him”, when the pandemic hit.
Det Insp Laura Harrison, of West Midlands Police, said it “was the worst decision that could have been made”.
“If only Hughes had left Arthur with his grandparents who absolutely doted on him, loved him and cherished him,” she told the Mirror.
“The manipulation and the toxic relationship between Tustin and Hughes meant the family were cut out of Arthur’s life and didn’t play a part.
“The lockdown meant professionals didn’t have the opportunity to monitor him in the same way they would do with children normally. I do think that lockdown contributed.”
The pair denied murder and two allegations of child cruelty; by administering salt to Arthur between June 1 and 17 last year and by withholding food and drink.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.