Cheshire boy, 6, allegedly murdered in ‘campaign of cruelty’ struggled to climb stairs, court hears

A stepmother fatally attacked a six-year-old boy, before taking a picture of his prone body and messaging his father saying he ‘won’t get up for s***’, a court was told today.

Emma Tustin, 32, is alleged to have killed Arthur Labinjo-Hughes on June 16 last year at her house in Shirley, near Solihull, West Midlands. 

He died the following day in hospital from ‘unsurvivable brain injuries’.

Prosecutors allege the youngster suffered systematic child neglect, including being forced to stand for hours on end, deprived of food and drink, and salt poisoning. 

Jurors were told that the alleged abuse from Tustin and her partner, Arthur’s father, Thomas Hughes, was ‘deliberately designed to terrorise’ the boy.

The pair deny murder and multiple counts of child cruelty.

Jurors at Coventry Crown Court today watched CCTV footage as they were told how Tustin allegedly fatally assaulted Arthur off camera, at around 2.29pm. 

Three minutes later she sent a message to Hughes, who was at the supermarket, saying: ‘Just copped me in the stomach. He’s threw himself all over the floor. 

‘Won’t get up for s***. I’ve shut the door on him.’ 

She also took a picture of Arthur appearing to lie prone on the floor. 

The jury was played living room footage of lifeless Arthur being carried back and forth by Tustin. 

Describing the footage, Jonas Hankin, QC, said: ‘Arthur appears to be unconscious. His eyes are closed and his body appears limp. He falls to the left onto the floor. It appears his body is limp.’ 

After placing Arthur on the sofa, Tustin then made a 37 second call to Hughes, the court heard. 

Prosecutors allege it took 12 minutes to dial 999 for medical assistance. 

In the half-hour before the alleged attack, Tustin had complained to Hughes by text about Arthur throwing himself ‘up the wall’, the court heard. 

She told Hughes: ‘Just done it again, this f***ing kid. ‘Only wanted to do my f***ing eyebrows.’  

Thomas Hughes (left), 29, also told his girlfriend Emma Tustin to ‘gag’ Arthur Labinjo-Hughes (right) after she moaned he was giving her ‘attitude’ during a beauty appointment, it was said. 

Coventry Crown Court heard how Tustin (pictured), 32, had taken the youngster to a house to get her hair and lashes done when she messaged her boyfriend: 'I had to tell Arthur off for messing

Coventry Crown Court heard how Tustin (pictured), 32, had taken the youngster to a house to get her hair and lashes done when she messaged her boyfriend: ‘I had to tell Arthur off for messing’

The trial was told earlier how Arthur looked ‘skeletal’ and ‘drained’ and was too weak to climb the stairs.   

One witness said he lacked the normal glow of children and instead looked like he had ‘fear ingrained inside’.

They added he had tried to flinch when he comforted him and appeared to be ‘petrified’. 

Giving evidence, beautician Catherine Milhench sobbed as she recalled seeing the youngster’s condition and told how her boyfriend ‘snuck’ him a glass of water as he was made to face a front door.

She today told jurors at Coventry Crown Court how Arthur was made to call his father ‘sir’, and said: ‘I hated it. I wanted them out.’ 

Their trial heard how on the morning of June 16, Tustin returned with Hughes to the home of Ms Milhench to finish a hair appointment carried over from the previous day.

The mother-of-two told jurors that she saw Hughes drag Arthur ‘by the scruff of his neck’ and call him a ‘little c***’.

When her own son ran into the house, causing Arthur to move from his position facing the front door, she claimed Hughes threatened to rip his head off and ‘use it as a football’.

She said: ‘He shouted loads of other stuff. ‘Watch you little c***, I will bury you six feet under’.’

Ms Milhench said: ‘It was continuous; attacking, swearing. Just continuous.’

She added: ‘I was doing Emma’s hair and I can’t remember how it started but Tom was in there, shut the door and Arthur started screaming. I turned around and said ‘what’s going on’. ‘And she said ‘he’s pressure-pointing him’.

She said ‘yeah, because it hurts’.’ The hairdresser, who had known Tustin for a year as a client after advertising her beauty services on Facebook, told how Arthur had arrived at her home in the same pyjamas as the previous day,

He spent much of the appointment stood in a hallway as other children played outside.

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes died in hospital several hours after he was found unresponsive at a house on Cranmore Road in Shirley, near Birmingham

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes died in hospital several hours after he was found unresponsive at a house on Cranmore Road in Shirley, near Birmingham

Hughes (left) is accused of forcing his son to endure 'physical and psychological' abuse in the weeks before his death

Hughes (left) is accused of forcing his son to endure ‘physical and psychological’ abuse in the weeks before his death

She said Tustin and Hughes were ‘constantly calling him at little c***’ and shouting ‘backwards and forwards…like a game of tennis’.

‘The only time Arthur would speak would be if they would say something and he would have to reply saying ‘okay’ or ‘yes’.

‘If he didn’t reply correctly, Tom would say ‘yes, what?’. Arthur would have to say ‘yes, sir’.

‘That’s how Tom wanted him to respond – ‘yes, sir’.’

Ms Milhench said she was shocked by Arthur’s deteriorating condition from a previous visit in February, and described him as ‘skeletal’, ‘drained’ and ‘weak’.

She said: ‘His legs trying to walk up the stairs would be shaking. Like he couldn’t hold himself up.’

She said Arthur appeared ‘completely different’ to normal six-year-olds and had no energy.

Ms Milhench told jurors how her boyfriend, Tobias Jarman – known as T – handed Arthur some water out of sight of Tustin and Hughes.

She said: ‘My partner snuck him a drink of water without them knowing.

‘He told me he had to hold the cup for him because he couldn’t hold it.

‘He was asking for more. Because [Tobias] had done that, [Arthur] was calling for T. He wanted to stay with T.’

Ms Milhench’s partner Tobias Jarman told how he went to see Arthur as he was stood at the foot of the stairs on June 16.

He said: ‘I got to the bottom of the stairs, put my hand on his shoulder and he properly flinched. I sat him down on the step and tried to reassure him. I said you haven’t got to be scared of me in any way.’

Mr Jarman said Arthur ‘looked petrified’ and was wthout ‘the normal glow you see in a kids’ eyes at that age’.

He added: ‘He looked like there was fear ingrained inside.’ Asked to describe Arthur’s physical appearance, Mr Jarman added: ‘Dry, cracked lips. The amount of plaque built on his teeth – like, considerable.

‘Dirty fingernails. He just looked quite grotty. As if he had actually been out playing in the garden but that hadn’t been the case.

‘Malnourished, just unwell really.’

Mr Jarman said he had overheard a ‘pattern of abuse’ from Hughes and Tustin towards Arthur.

Giving evidence, he said he heard Hughes yell: ‘Stand up f***ing straight. Wait til we get home, I’m going to put you six feet under.’ Mr Jarman said: ‘I could hear Emma shouting at Arthur but also shouting to Tom…basically telling Tom to sort him out.’ 

Arthur died from a fatal head injury. Prosecutors allege Tustin murdered the youngster and that Hughes ‘intentionally encouraged’ the killing.

Tustin has pleaded guilty to one count of child cruelty but denies further charges of the same offence.

Hughes denies all charges. Quizzed by Tustin’s barrister, Mary Prior, QC, why she didn’t call police after being left ‘sickened’ by the couple’s treatment of Arthur, Ms Milhench said: ‘I wish I did.

‘How they were was completely wrong.’ She added:

‘It’s hard to butt in on other people’s parenting. In that situation I didn’t know what to do.’

Mrs Prior accused Ms Milhench of ‘exaggerating’ her account.

The beautician denied the claim and said she had tried to encourage Tustin to take Arthur to school, and to his grandparents, who lived locally.

She said: ‘I suggested they send him to school so there’s time away if things were that bad at home.

‘They said they can’t because they will see the bruises. Emma said that it was what Tom had done to Arthur.’

She added: ‘I said take him to his nan’s, he’ll be happy and you’ll be happy, everyone wins.

‘She said ‘no, because that’s what he wants’.’

Ms Milhench said she saw Arthur stumble as the family left her home, because he was ‘physically weak’. She claimed that Tustin and Hughes ‘just stood there’ and did not try to help him to his feet.

The court was previously told of Whatsapp messages sent by Hughes and Tustin while she was at Ms Millhench’s home.

On June 15, a day before Arthur was allegedly fatally assaulted, Hughes told Tustin to ‘gag’ the schoolboy after she complained about his ‘backchatting’. Tustin sent a text: ‘Backchatting. A joke. Threw himself on the floor and everything. Shouting abuse. Still screaming.’

Hughes replied: ‘Just gag him or something. Tie some rope around his mouth with a sock in it or something.’

He continued: ‘He wants to hope that by the time I get back he’s thought about how much of a c*** he is and wants to think about apologising.’

Hughes then added: ‘Kid’s getting ended when I get back’. He also said on WhatsApp: ‘Just ask T to dig Arthur’s grave for me please.’

Ms Milhench told the jury that she did not see Arthur misbehaving while in her house.

Arthur, who died at Birmingham Children’s Hospital on June 17, 2020, had been in the full-time care of Mr Hughes after his mother, Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, was accused of killing her new partner, Gary Cunningham, in February 2019.

She was jailed for 11 years in July this year after being found guilty of manslaughter.

The trial continues.