Serious concerns over councils remain after deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson

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A group of MPs remain "extremely concerned" about council failings in areas where children Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson were murdered.

A cross-party group of MPs has written to Education Secretary Kit Malthouse to tell him they are "extremely concerned" about whether the chief executives of Solihull and Bradford Councils are up to the job of improving children’s services following the deaths of Arthur and Star Hobson.

The Education Select Committee’s letter comes after it spoke to the senior officials from both councils and said it found their reassurances "inadequate".

The Committee added it was "extremely concerned as to whether the current leadership of Solihull and Bradford Councils will be able to safeguard other vulnerable children".

Arthur from Solihull in the West Midlands, was poisoned, starved and beaten.

The six-year-old's trial had been "without doubt one of the most distressing and disturbing cases I have had to deal with", Justice Mark Wall QC said last year.

At the time of his death, Arthur was living with his father Thomas Hughes, and his father's partner Emma Tustin.

Arthur suffered horrendous abuse at the hands of those who should have been looking after him.

The six-year-old died after sustaining an "unsurvivable brain injury" on 16 June 2020 while he was with his dad's partner's Tustin in her home in Cranmore Road, SolihullWest Midlands

Arthur's father's partner Emma Tustin, 32, was jailed for life in December last year with a minimum term of 29 years for murder.

His father, Thomas Hughes, 29, is serving 24 years for manslaughter, a sentence increase on appeal.

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

Star was 16 months old when she was murdered by her mother's partner, Savannah Brockhill, at their home in Keighley, West Yorkshire, on 22 September 2020.

She suffered a fatal cardiac arrest after months of "neglect, cruelty and injury" at the hands of Brockhill and Star's mother, Frankie Smith.

Brockhill was later jailed for life. Smith is serving a 12-year sentence for causing or allowing Star's death.

The committee’s letter to Mr Malthouse questioned whether Solihull chief executive Nick Page and Bradford chief executive Kersten England were "best placed to continue to lead and oversee the state of Children’s Services in both authorities".

The group of MPs called on Ministers to make sure that commitments made by both council bosses to improve services over 12 months were followed through.

Frankie Smith was found guilty of allowing the death of her daughter Star Hobson

Otherwise, it warned that the Department for Education and Ofsted should consider "whether both chief executives are capable of continuing to try and establish such significant change".

Conservative chair of the committee, Robert Halfon MP, said: "The deaths of Arthur and Star were harrowing.

"Both Bradford and Solihull Councils’ children’s services were in dire need of improvements even before the lockdowns. Action was not taken, and two children lost their lives.

"The new Education Secretary must prioritise the vulnerable children currently being failed by these authorities and take the steps to ensure targets for improvement are being met, and fast.

"There must be accountability, and it is essential that the leaders responsible for the most at-risk children in our society are up to the job."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We have already intervened extensively in both Solihull and Bradford’s services to address weaknesses, appointing independent advisers in both cases and handing control of services in Bradford to a Trust.

"We cannot be complacent when it comes to protecting vulnerable children and will not hesitate to take additional steps to drive swift improvement.

"We are working on a bold plan for wide scale reform in children’s social care which we will publish later this year."

Responding to the Education Select Committee’s letter, Nick Page, Solihull Council's Chief Executive said it is committed to improving safeguarding in Solihull.

He said: "The tragic circumstances around Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’ murder, by the very people meant to love and care for him, has had a shocking impact on Arthur’s family, me personally and across the whole Solihull community and nationally. 

"I have acknowledged and accepted the findings of both the JTAI and the National Panel reports and been committed to improving safeguarding in Solihull."

Nick Page, CEO of Solihull Council (left) Arthur Labinjo Hughes Credit: Solihull Council / PA

Mr Page said: "We have already made important improvements to our practices though our Improvement Board overseen by independent chair, Penny Thompson CBE.

"I understand that people want to see action and that we are making a positive difference to children and young people’s lives in Solihull.

"This is why I am determined to continue to lead our efforts to make the necessary changes, to drive through the recommendations.

"We have now appointed a brand-new leadership team within Children’s Services with Pete Campbell taking up the Director’s role in October, and two Assistant Directors already in post.

"It would be too easy to walk away now, particularly with this level of criticism, however, I honestly feel I am best placed to work with colleagues and partners to address the issues we face.

"This is extremely complex and difficult work that few outside the profession really understand, changing leadership now would be detrimental to the improvement journey we are on."

A Bradford Council spokesperson said that the local authority was "working well" with the Department for Education and was making “good progress” in establishing the Bradford Children and Families Trust.

The spokesperson said: "It is a matter of public record that we acknowledge and fully accept the findings of the National Panel report which was led by Annie Hudson into the horrific deaths of Star and Arthur.

"As a council we are clear about the actions we need to take to improve services and make sure that children in our district are safe.

"We are implementing these at pace. We cooperated fully with the Department for Education’s Commissioner-led review which was a thorough appraisal of the challenges that have faced children’s services.

"The most recent Ofsted monitoring visit, the result of which was published this month, has also highlighted recent improvements in the delivery of services."