Social worker concluded ‘boisterous play’ caused boy’s bruises weeks before his death, jury told

A social worker concluded that bruises found on a six-year-old boy allegedly murdered weeks later by his “bullying” father and “coercive” stepmother were down to “boisterous play”, a jury heard.

Thomas Hughes and his girlfriend, Emma Tustin, are on trial also accused of forcing Arthur Labinjo-Hughes to eat salt and endure months of “cruel” abuse amounting to torture, prosecutors have said.

Arthur (pictured) died after his head was “banged repeatedly against a hard surface”, leaving him with an “unsurvivable brain injury” on June 17, 2020.

It is alleged Tustin carried out the fatal assault at her home in Cranmore Road, Solihull, while in sole care of Arthur, before photographing her stepson as he lay dying in the hallway, using her mobile phone.

Hughes, 29, who is alleged to have aided and abetted in the murder, and Tustin, 32, are also accused of multiple counts of child cruelty relating to incidents in the run-up to his death.

On Tuesday, jurors heard that social services, who carried out a home visit with Arthur weeks before his death, told his school teachers they had “no concerns” about his well-being.

Michelle Hull, safeguarding lead at Dickens Heath Community Primary School, told a jury she was alerted to the social services referral after Arthur’s paternal grandmother, Joanne Hughes, told teachers on April 20, 2020 that she had contacted the authorities.

Ms Hull told jurors at Coventry Crown Court: “She phoned to make us aware she had concerns about Arthur and made a MASH (multi-agency safeguarding hub) referral.

“She said that she had seen Arthur and he had bruises on, I think, it was his back.

“She said she had seen bruises.”

Ms Hull said Arthur’s grandmother also had separate concerns about Tustin’s “mental health” and said that she was a “coercive” partner.

She added: “She was concerned the relationship wasn’t a positive one.

“She was worried about Thomas and Arthur because the partner that he had – she was worried about her mental health.

“She felt his partner, Emma, was coercive.”

Ms Hull told Arthur’s grandmother she would follow up on the referral by ringing children’s services to see what had happened after a female family support worker visited Arthur at Cranmore Road.

Jonas Hankin QC, prosecuting, asked Ms Hull: “What, if any, information were you given about the nature of the checks that social services said had been performed?”

Ms Hull replied: “They said they’d seen Arthur and that the injuries were from boisterous play.

“That the family relationship seemed OK.

“And they had no concerns.”

Asked if the support worker had given further detail about the injuries she had seen, Ms Hull said: “I think she referred to the bruises on the back.”

Ms Hull said the social worker “didn’t have any concerns about parenting” by Tustin.

The teacher added that social services told her she “wasn’t allowed to share any information with Arthur’s grandmother because (parental) consent hadn’t been given”.

Instead, Ms Hull volunteered for the school “to stay involved and just do check-ins with the family”, which Mr Hughes consented to.

Asked why she had made that offer, Ms Hull said: “Because they were a family we had taken in and nurtured and that’s very much how our school works.

“We see ourselves as a family and just felt we could continue to offer support.”

Earlier on Tuesday, jurors heard that Arthur was a “lovely boy” who had “settled in” well to school life, after joining the school in 2019.

However, Arthur “changed considerably” after being told his natural mother had been jailed, following her conviction for killing her new partner.

He had developed a “fixation” on death and murder, his father leaving him and “Arthur being taken away and Arthur’s dad killing him”, the court heard.

Ms Hull said: “It’s quite a difficult situation for Arthur to be in and we wanted to support him as a school, just check in if they needed anything.

“Because he (Hughes) was a young father, really – possibly inexperienced.”

Jurors were also told how Arthur got upset at school in March 2020, telling another teacher it was “because daddy had taken his teddy off him”, and that the bear had been his favourite.

The toy was removed as a punishment because “he’d been rude and unkind to his new partner”.

Tustin, who has admitted one count of child cruelty, denies two other similar charges, while Hughes has pleaded not guilty to three child cruelty allegations.

Hughes, of Stroud Road, and Tustin, of Cranmore Road, also deny murder, and the trial continues.

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