Arthur Labinjo-Hughes: Review into actions of social workers underway over six-year-old's murder

Warning: Some readers may find this article distressing

An independent review is under way into the actions of social workers who found "no safeguarding concerns" for Arthur Labinjo-Hughes who was murdered just two months later by his stepmother.

Emma Tustin, 32, was unanimously convicted of murdering Arthur at Coventry Crown Court on Thursday.

Her partner and Arthur’s father, 29-year-old Thomas Hughes, was found guilty of manslaughter, after his son suffered an "unsurvivable brain injury" on June 16 2020.

During the trial, jurors heard how Solihull Council social workers visited the boy at Tustin’s Cranmore Road home, in the borough, on April 17 2020.

The visit was prompted after Arthur’s paternal grandmother, secondary school teacher Joanne Hughes, rang the out-of-hours emergency social services team, reporting bruises she had seen on the boy’s back.

Despite social workers then examining Arthur and finding a "faint" yellow bruise, they agreed with Tustin and Hughes that it was a "happy household", with no cause for concern.

But photographs, taken on April 16, of the deep purple-coloured bruises were then later sent to social services by Joanne Hughes, on April 24.

Arthur's paternal grandmother photographed the bruising on him in April 2020, two months before his death. Credit: PA

Jayne Kavanagh, one of the two social workers who examined Arthur that day, said she was left confused and "in shock" when she saw those photos which were emailed on to her by a manager.

On her visit, she had seen only a "faint" bruise, which was put down to play-fighting with another child, by Hughes and Tustin.

Solihull’s Local Child Safeguarding Partnership said it was now carrying out an independent review into the "terrible tragedy" of Arthur’s death, including the contact with social services.

Although further contact was made with Thomas Hughes by social workers after the photos were sent, there was no more engagement with the family by the authorities.

Two separate referrals had been made at the same time by Joanne Hughes; to West Midlands Police and the social services duty team, with the latter relating to "unexplained" bruising to Arthur’s back.

The NSPCC said the convictions "must be just the start of the process to uncover the full chain of events that ultimately led to Arthur’s death and to establish the lessons that need to be learned to prevent this awful case from happening again".

The organisation said official figures showed more children had died or come to serious harm through suspected harm or neglect in 2020/21, which included the first national lockdown, than the previous year.

There was also an increase in contacts to the NSPCC helpline, supporting findings of a heightened risk of child cruelty and neglect during that period.

When social services contacted Hughes to arrange to see Arthur, his father initially suggested meeting in a Screwfix car park but then agreed to a home visit.

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes with his father, Thomas Hughes, and Hughes’ partner, Emma Tustin Credit: Family handout/West Midlands Police/PA

Ms Kavanagh then carried out a "threshold" assessment visit along with family support worker, Angela Scarlett-Coppage.

Ms Kavanagh said during the visit to Tustin’s home she saw "a small faint bruise… like a yellowish colour" which was "difficult to see".

But after being shown a photograph showing extensive, deep purple-coloured bruising to the shoulder area taken on April 16, Ms Kavanagh said she was left "really confused".

"I was in shock that these photos had been taken the day before," she said.

"In April, on that visit there were no safeguarding concerns."

Family support worker Ms Scarlett-Coppage told jurors she "could see a faded bruise" but nothing more.

Ms Scarlett-Coppage agreed social services eventually closed the case on the referral because "he (Hughes) did not consent" to further contact.

In his closing speech, Hughes’ own barrister Bernard Richmond QC said to the jury: "Don’t pay too much attention to what the social workers said, if I were you.

"As investigations go, that really was not their finest hour, was it?"

Arthur was recorded in more than 200 audio files by Tustin Credit: Family Handout/West Midlands Police/PA

The trial also heard West Midlands Police were sent photographs of the bruises by one of Arthur’s uncles, but officers closed the log concluding they had “no further role”, as social services were already involved.

The Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) said it had also “conducted and concluded” an investigation into the force’s handling of the case, and would publish its report in due course.

However, the IOPC did say it "found no indication any individual behaved in a manner that justified disciplinary proceedings".

Stephen Cullen, chairman of the independent Solihull Child Safeguarding Partnership, said: "This terrible tragedy has had a shocking impact on Arthur’s family and across the whole community.

"The tragic loss of a young boy in such terrible circumstances is dreadful.

"We send our heartfelt condolences to everyone affected.

"The circumstances around his death will now be subject to an independent review, the Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review – and clearly it would be inappropriate for the partnership to comment ahead of the findings of that review."

Flower tributes lay in Cranmore Road in Shirley Credit: BPM Media

Boris Johnson believes "no child should ever suffer" in the way Arthur did, and there are questions that need to be answered over the case.

A spokesman for Mr Johnson said: "The Prime Minister found the details of this case deeply disturbing and his thoughts are with those who loved Arthur, and no child should ever suffer in the way that he did.

"It's clear there are questions that need to be answered to get to the bottom of how this happened.

"You'll be aware that a local child safeguarding practice review is under way to fully assess the circumstances surrounding Arthur's tragic death at the hands of those who should have been looking after him, and that review will look at local safeguarding, including police, children's social care, health and education professionals in the local area.

"We won't hesitate to take any action off the back of that review."

He added the government's manifesto had "committed to a review of the children's social care system to make sure children and young people get the support they need".