Wicked dad and stepmum who tortured and killed Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, 6, jailed

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A cruel and vicious pair who abused and poisoned a six-year-old boy before killing him have been jailed.

Callous and ‘pitiless’ Emma Tustin refused to come to the dock and attend her own sentencing hearing on Friday.

At a tense court hearing his devastated mum revealed that the murder had ‘destroyed’ her life and that her heart had been broken.

Tustin, 32, was handed a life sentence and will serve a minimum of 29 years while Thomas Hughes, 29, was jailed for 21 years.

The pair had gone to trial after little Arthur Labinjo-Hughes suffered an “un-survivable” brain injury during lockdown in June 2020.

During the harrowing eight-week case at Coventry Crown Court, jurors heard Tustin carried out the fatal assault while she had sole care of Arthur.

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes
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She was said to have 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 then took 12 minutes to call 999, instead first ringing Hughes, before lying to medics and later telling police that Arthur “fell and banged his head”.

Tustin was found guilty of murder and Hughes of manslaughter.

She 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.

A judge found Tustin had an intent to kill
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Jurors convicted Hughes on both those counts.

It emerged at trial that Arthur had been seen by social workers just two months before his death, after concerns were raised by his paternal grandmother, Joanne Hughes, but they concluded there were “no safeguarding concerns”.

At the start of the pair’s sentencing hearing at Coventry Crown Court on Friday, Ms Hughes read a victim impact statement on behalf of her family.

The secondary school teacher said Arthur, was a “happy, contented, thriving seven-year-old” would “be alive today” had her son not met Tustin.

But she added: “It is also clear that Arthur was failed by the very authorities that we, as a society, are led to believe are there to ensure the safety of everyone.”

Arthur’s maternal grandmother, Madeleine Halcrow, in a victim impact statement delivered on behalf of the boy’s natural mother, recalled his “beautiful smile” and his “kind, nurturing spirit”, adding that he had been “the light of my life”.

Arthur’s mother, Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, said her life had been destroyed
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“He was let down by a person he trusted and should have protected him, left alone and isolated, and then they took him away from me,” she said.

“My child, my little love, defenceless, trusting and nothing but loving, was killed.

“His short life stolen and the hole left in me and those who loved Arthur will never be repaired.

“Sleep well, my angel – you are truly loved.”

The statement went on: “He giggled his usual giggle. I will never again hear that giggle or hear him say ‘I love you mommy bear’.

“He will never get his drumstick squashies. I will never get to see the smile behind his eyes. Never get to remind him how beautiful he was and how much he was loved.

“Life as I know it will never exist again. Losing Arthur is unquantifiable. I don’t think I will ever be able to live a full life again. Grief isn’t the right word. How I feel about losing baby bear Arthur. I feel hollow.

“Every day I feel like I’m walking around with all the lights turned off.”

Artists impression of Emma Tustin and Thomas Hughes
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Judge Mark Wall QC also found that Tustin had an intent to kill, citing the level of force required to cause Arthur’s injuries, the comment she made the previous day that it would be ‘the last time he will bite me’, the significant amount of salt Arthur consumed in an hour or two before his death and the fact that Tustin sought to ‘cover up’ what had happened after rather than help Arthur.

In mitigation Tustin’s barrister said her client had been bullied in prison. She said the woman tried to take her own life during the trial by taking an overdose and attempting to hang herself.

During the case Tustin accepted making 200 audio recordings of Arthur, who was 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.

The trial heard a devastating 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”.

Chilling video footage showed the moment he struggled to lift a light duvet and battled to stand just hours before he died.

Thomas Hughes, 29
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Emma Tustin, 32
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Hughes was accused of encouraging the killing, including by sending a text message to Tustin 18 hours before the fatal assault which told her to “just end him”.

Prosecutors claimed they 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.

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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.

Hughes, of Stroud Road, Solihull, was convicted of manslaughter after encouraging the killing, while Tustin was convicted of murder.

The pair denied murder and two allegations of child cruelty
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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.

The boy’s mum and gran went on to pay a heart-breaking tribute to the football-mad youngster.

Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, who is serving a jail term for killing her boyfriend, described her son as “the light of my life” and “best friend”.

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes waking up hours before he collapsed from fatal injuries
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In a statement from her prison cell she wrote: “The details of Arthur’s case are harrowing and incomparable.

“From the moment Arthur was born he filled my life with joy. He was always smiling and had the most inquisitive little mind.

“Arthur was the light of my life. He wasn’t just my only child, he was my best friend.

“Never did I imagine he would be taken from this world so early in his life.

Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow
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“If Arthur could ask for one final thing it would be that he is remembered for his superpower.

“That will always be what I remember him for. Arthur’s superpower was his smile.”

Speaking after the verdicts, Arthur’s gran Madeleine Halcrow said: “Arthur was my sunny delight. He was always happy, smiling, loving, caring.”

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She accused Thomas Hughes and Emma Tustin of getting a “perverse” pleasure out of torturing him.

Madeleine, a nurse from Birmingham, described them as “cold, calculating, systematic torturers of a defenceless little boy”.

She added: “They’re wicked, evil, especially doing that to your own child, who you’ve got a duty of care to protect.

“I think they enjoyed what they did, they must have got a perverse kick out of it.

Arthur’s gran reading a moving tribute from his jailed mum

“I was absolutely heart-broken watching the clips. It’s unfathomable, it really is.

“I was inconsolable, to see a child that ill and what they were doing to him, tormenting him, abusing him.

“If you see a parent hitting a child in the street, you would go across and say, ‘What do you think you are doing?’

“You wouldn’t do it systematically to your own child.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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