A woman accused of murdering her six-year-old stepson today pleaded guilty to cruelly beating the child in the days before he suffered a fatal head injury.
Stepmother Emma Tustin, who is accused of killing Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, changed her plea to the count of child cruelty part-way through her trial, at the end of defence evidence.
Tustin and Arthur’s father Thomas Hughes, 29, are both on trial jointly accused of murder, after the boy suffered an ‘unsurvivable brain injury’ on June 17, 2020.
In a closing address to the jury, Jonas Hankin, QC, prosecuting, said Arthur was subjected to ‘incomprehensible cruelty’ before his tragic death.
It is alleged Tustin, 32, carried out the fatal assault while having sole care of Arthur, then fetched her mobile phone to take a picture of the little boy as he lay dying in her home in Solihull, West Midlands.
Mr Hankin said Hughes was ‘malevolent’ and ‘relished causing Arthur distress.’
He told the court it was ‘almost impossible’ to imagine the suffering the boy endured while segregated and having to face a wall for up to 14 hours a day.
Of 130 areas of bruising found on his body at post-mortem, Mr Hankin said: ‘Most of them will have been abusive. If even half of them were from assaults, that is nearly a bruise for every day of lockdown.
‘Violence was a way of life for him in lockdown.’
The prosecution believes Arthur was fed a ‘slurry of salt’ by Tustin, who then caused his unsurvivable brain injuries in a furious attack.
Hughes is accused of aiding and abetting in the murder, including by sending a text message to Tustin telling her ‘kid’s getting ended when I get back’.
Prosecutors have alleged the pair carried out a ‘campaign of cruelty’, amounting to ‘torture’, against Arthur, in which he was force-fed salt-laced meals, kept isolated in the home, starved, dehydrated and routinely beaten.
Mr Hankin accused Tustin of then ‘dressing the scene’ to make it appear as if Arthur had inflicted his own injuries. He told jurors: ‘Something did happen to this child. Emma Tustin, to use her own words, lost her ‘f***ing s***’.
Mr Hankin added: ‘Neither Emma Tustin’s limited pleas or Thomas Hughes’s partial admissions begin to reflect the evidence that proves Arthur was the victim of daily beatings.’
He said: ‘Thomas Hughes was complicit in the violence that caused Arthur’s death. Without his permission, without his assent, without his approval, Emma Tustin would not have dared lay a finger on Arthur, let alone assault him so badly.
Thomas Hughes had the power, the right and indeed the legal duty to intervene to protect Arthur – but he deliberately failed to do so. He deliberately refrained from doing so.
‘He didn’t merely assent. He promoted and encouraged the cruelty that Arthur was subjected to. At an early stage in the relationship with Emma Tustin Thomas Hughes made it clear which side he was on. He chose Emma Tustin over his own child.
‘The language he used in text messages, in the presence of others, explicitly encouraged violence towards Arthur. His own aggressive behaviour and use of violence, the example he set, made it clear violence against Arthur was permitted and deliberately encouraged.’
Tustin’s barrister, Mary Prior QC, told jurors at Coventry Crown Court that her client had admitted in her own evidence to ‘three assaults… all captured on CCTV, occurring between June 12 and 16, 2020’, leading to her change of plea.
Tustin claimed Arthur’s fatal head injury was self-inflicted, possibly by throwing himself down the staircase in her hallway, where he was forced to spend ’12 to 14 hours’ a day, as part of the couple’s behavioural regime.