A ‘wicked’ father bought himself an ice cream as he made his six-year-old son stand still in a fluffy onesie on a ‘baking hot day’, a murder trial has heard.
Thomas Hughes, 29, subjected Arthur Labinjo-Hughes to a ‘persistent campaign of cruelty’ and ‘relished in his distress’ during lockdown, a jury was told.
Today, Hughes admitted applying pressure to Arthur’s neck using techniques learned from watching videos about police brutality in America.
Hughes also tricked Arthur into the car by pretending he was going to visit his grandparents – a place ‘he had felt safe’ – but then never went.
Arthur, who was found with 125 areas of bruising on his body, died of an unsurvivable brain injury on June 16 last year after allegedly being murdered while alone with Hughes’ partner, Emma Tustin, 32.
Prior to his death, the child was allegedly poisoned with salt, deprived of food and water, made to stand in a hallway alone, and sleep on the floor.
Hughes and Tustin – who had an abortion while in custody – both deny murder at Coventry Crown Court.
Jonas Hankin QC, prosecuting, said Hughes was an ‘utterly ruthless, unthinking, and pitiless’ father, who struck Arthur ‘over and over and over again’ and threatened to take his head off ‘to use as a football’.
The court heard the pair ‘plotted’ to deceive social workers by coaching Arthur and Tustin’s son to lie about the injuries.
Hughes admitted buying ice creams for himself and Tustin while Arthur was forced to stand by a glass-framed door in a fluffy onesie during a heatwave.
Detailing the abuse the child suffered, Mr Hankin told the court that Arthur was segregated in a hallway and made to stand for 14 hours a day for a month and a half before his death.
Hughes was filmed in custody trying to stand facing a wall in his cell and admitted he could only last ’20 minutes’.
Mr Hankin said: ‘You watched him decline from a happy, chubby, healthy, active boy to a desperately sad, thin, weak, miserable, child’
Arthur had moved into the care of his father after his mother, Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, was accused of killing her new partner in February 2019.
Hughes met mother-of-four Tustin online before the couple moved with Arthur into her home near Solihull in the West Midlands when the Government introduced a lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The court heard social workers were called to the home two months prior to Arthur’s death after his grandmother raised concerns about bruises on his back, but no further action was taken.
Mr Hankin, though, told the court that Hughes plotted to deceive social workers by coaching Arthur and Tustin’s son to lie about the injuries.
He said: ‘You were worried as soon as someone saw him, the authorities would be involved and Emma was worried that if the authorities became involved she would lose her children.’
Giving evidence in his own trial, Hughes said he ‘wanted to tell the truth’ and felt ‘uncomfortable’, but was warned off by Tustin and claimed it was her who coerced the children into fabricating a story.
Hughes and Tustin are alleged to have subjected him to ‘violence and intimidation’ in ‘brutal and controlling circumstances’ prior to his death.
Arthur was also found to have consumed so much salt upon his death that medics at Birmingham Children’s Hospital questioned their machinery.
The child is also alleged to have been deprived of water and food as Hughes and Tustin indulged in takeaways.
Hughes claims he was manipulated by Tustin and was ‘too scared to speak up’, but prosecutors allege he ‘chose a side, and chose Emma over Arthur’.
The father admitted to, on one occasion, buying ice creams from a passing van for himself and Tustin while Arthur was isolated in a hallway.
Mr Hankin said: ‘You, hearing the ice cream van, went out of the house past him and went and bought two ice creams.
‘When you came back you opened the door, and you went past Arthur holding your ice creams didn’t you. Here you both are – is that not you displaying total contempt for your son?’
On another occasion, Tustin shook and then slammed Arthur’s head on a hard surface while alone with him, the court heard.
She claims the boy died from self-inflicted injuries, though this is rejected by medical experts.
Jurors heard Hughes ‘encouraged’ Arthur’s killing in a phone call made less than three minutes before his death.
Text messages sent to Tustin included remarks by Hughes to ‘fill him in’, ‘take his neck off his c***ing shoulders’ and ‘get nasty’, the court heard.
He also said to ‘give him away’ and ‘put him out with the rubbish’, jurors were told. Hughes insists he ‘never wanted to harm Arthur’.
A witness told the court the child was ‘too weak’ to hold a glass of water to his mouth the day before he was found collapsed. They added that his clothes looked dirty, his lips were cracked and he could barely open his mouth to speak.
In a 999 call made 12 minutes after Arthur was found unresponsive, Tustin claimed the injuries were self-inflicted.
She said he ‘banged his head while on the floor on all fours’.
Consultant neuropathologist Daniel Du Plessis said the chances of Arthur causing himself fatal head injuries were ‘inconceivable’.
He said he believed Arthur was shaken and slammed with ‘very severe force’.
Opening the trial, Mr Hankin said: ‘Both defendants participated in a campaign of cruelty intended to cause Arthur significant harm and suffering. ‘Violence and intimidation, both physical and verbal, were routine.
‘Arthur’s visible injuries, his miserable physical condition and obvious despair provided each defendant with a daily reminder of the lengths to which the other would go to cause him harm.’
Questioned by his own barrister, Bernard Richmond QC, Hughes said he is ‘disgusted’ with himself.
He added that the decision not to leave Tustin was ‘a choice that will stay with me forever for being the wrong one’.
Tustin has admitted one count of child cruelty but denies three others. Hughes denies four counts of child cruelty.
The trial continues.