A sadistic stepmum and her former boyfriend have been branded ‘evil’ by police after their ‘toxic combination’ led to the killing of little Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.
Emma Tustin was convicted of murdering the six-year-old lad, while her ex-boyfriend and Arthur’s dad Thomas Hughes, 29, was found guilty of manslaughter.
Detective Inspector Laura Harrison, who led the investigation for West Midlands Police, said the pair were “jointly responsible” for the horrific death despite Tustin, 32, being the one to inflict the fatal head injury at her home in Shirley, Solihull.
Police said the couple were “too selfish and focused on themselves”. They enjoyed time spent in a hot tub in her garden, while tragic Arthur was made to stand for up to 14-hours a day by himself in the hallway.
Det Insp Harrison feels Hughes, 29, was the “weak” party in the relationship and allowed Tustin to create a family unit which shunned Arthur.
The senior officer said the schoolboy was going through emotional turmoil after his mum Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow was convicted and jailed for her boyfriend’s manslaughter – But “all he needed was the love and support from his dad, which he failed to receive.”
“I would describe Thomas as someone who was the weak party in their relationship,” Det Insp Harrison told BirminghamLive.
“I do think that Emma Tustin did want to create a family unit that didn’t include Arthur and I think that’s probably how things spiralled out of control for the two of them.
“That’s not to put any more weight on what Emma Tustin has done because I still think that Thomas is the one person that… should have been protecting Arthur.
“He had the opportunity to leave that house and he did for one night and he chose to go back. He does seem like a weak individual but that’s not to minimise his involvement.
“This was a time in his life that Arthur needed to be the focus and the centre of it to ensure he gets over the traumatic situation with his mother.
“I just think Emma Tustin wanted a relationship and so did Thomas Hughes and they were just a toxic combination that didn’t have the parenting skills between them to be able to look after a little boy who just needed love and support.
“I think they were too selfish and focused on themselves. That’s really clear in the CCTV (from inside the home) when Arthur is stood facing the door for hours and they are both in the hot tub in the garden enjoying themselves.”
She added: “Evil is a word I’ve come to in my own mind. It’s extreme and hard hitting for a police officer to say, but I can’t comprehend what’s happened in that house towards Arthur to describe it in any other way.
“The behaviour cannot be excused, cannot be understood, and it’s just absolute torture which can only be described as ‘evil’.”
Det Insp Harrison said Hughes needed to step up as a father when his ex-girlfriend was jailed and he became sole parent of Arthur.
Police said he could have sought help from his family with Arthur’s care – but he chose to report them to police for alleged harassment.
“He needed to step up to his responsibility as a father and couldn’t,” said the detective. “He didn’t want to be seen by his wider family as not being able to do that and therefore felt a bit of pressure.
“As soon as Joanne Hughes (Arthur’s grandmother) started asking questions she was cut out and wasn’t allowed to see Arthur.
“There was a breakdown in the relationship within the family.”
Arthur’s uncle even tried to “appease” Hughes and help but it was “shut off at every opportunity,” the officer said.
She added: “It got to the point where Thomas Hughes actually reported them to the police for harassing him.
“So that was the lengths he went to, to try and protect what he had with Emma Tustin. It just didn’t make sense that he didn’t say (to his mum/brother) ‘we can’t deal with Arthur, you have him’.
“He had the opportunity, but he chose not to. He preferred the relationship.”
Police said mobile phone evidence “highlighted Hughes knew what was happening at all times because if he wasn’t inside the house he was in communication with Tustin.”
The youngster died in hospital on June 17 last year after suffering fatal brain damage from a “shaking injury”.
A post-mortem examination confirmed his death was caused by a head injury.
Det Insp Harrison said Hughes and Tustin are “both responsible for Arthur’s death.”
“What we know from medical experts is that Emma Tustin was the one that delivered that fatal blow, but we also know that Thomas Hughes had assaulted Arthur on a number of occasions,” she said.
“He was fully aware of what was happening. If he wasn’t in the house he was in constant communication, so it can’t be said Thomas knew nothing of what was happening.”
She added: “Thomas encouraged or assisted that campaign, he just wasn’t responsible for that fatal injury.
“I don’t think you can separate them. They both had a duty of care towards Arthur. Thomas should have protected him, but he allowed, encouraged and committed some of that abuse himself.”
CCTV was set up near the TV in the living room of Tustin’s home. It captured an area where Arthur was made to sleep every night on the living room floor.
The use of the camera did capture some assaults, but did not capture the fatal attack.
“It didn’t have audio but did capture Arthur being carried by the scruff of the neck,” said Det Insp Harrison. “Some quite horrific images have been captured on there. Both of them carried him across the living room at one point in that way.
“We only have six days worth of footage. But those six days gave us a real insight into the build up of that fatal assault.
She also said the audio clips were “significant” in the prosecution’s case.
“It’s really significant as you don’t often get to hear from the victim themselves. It gives a real insight into the horrendous situation and the heartbreaking screams of Arthur in the audio clips are haunting,” she said.
“But they can only have been recorded by Emma Tustin to keep that manipulation of Thomas going where he was not there.
“It’s been really impactive and doesn’t make sense. It’s not normal to film someone when they are in absolute despair, pain and suffering. It’s an extra layer of cruelty that has been added to what we already know.”
Det Insp Harrison said the “painstaking investigation” but it has been important justice has been served for Arthur and his family.
“It’s important for justice, mainly for Arthur, and his wider family,” she added.
“It’s been really traumatic for his family to be exposed to the level of detail and the wider community as well just what was going on behind closed doors during a time when they had no idea whatsoever.
“It’s been quite an emotional and difficult investigation. It’s highlighted quite a lot of detail we don’t ordinarily uncover in a child abuse or neglect case.
“That’s preliminary because of a CCTV camera in the living room, which picked up six days worth of footage to get a feel for what was happening in that house and how the family were interacting.
“It became apparent Arthur was not captured that often on the CCTV, so further evidence, mobile phone footage, audio and text message communication between the two defendants highlighted a campaign of abuse and torture of Arthur that resulted in his death.
BrumWish 2021 aims to get thousands of Christmas gifts to young children in need across our city – the homeless, the vulnerable, kids in care and kids who have little.
This year’s appeal is bigger and better than ever – because we have teamed up with our partners at #Toys4Birmingham, including Thrive Together Birmingham, the Birmingham Playcare Network, the Edgbaston Foundation and Birmingham Forward Steps.
Also involved are Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust, Barnardo’s, Spurgeon’s children’s charity, the Springfield project in Sparkhill, St Paul’s Community Development Trust and Your Local Pantry, which runs food hubs in 12 locations across Birmingham and the Black Country.
You can buy a gift from the #Brumwish Amazon Wishlist here.
Or you can collect and drop off donations of new and nearly new toys and gifts to special donation days at Edgbaston Stadium, B5 7QU, on Saturday November 27, Friday December 3 and Saturday December 4, from 11am to 3pm, where volunteers will be waiting to see you.
Brand new or nearly new, unwrapped gifts, books and toys for all ages will be accepted.
You can also donate cash, which will go into a fund held by a charity partner to use to plug gaps or buy specialist toys for children with additional needs. This is the link to make a donation.
“It’s the most traumatic and horrific murder I have investigated just for having that emotional connection in not being able to comprehend it.
“I know the intimate details in this case and so do my officers, therefore it does stand out as being particularly harrowing. It will stay with me.”
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