6-year-old Cheshire boy reportedly killed in ‘campaign of brutality’, struggled to climb stairs, court hears

A stepmother fatally assaulted a six-year-old boy before she took a photo of his lying body and messaged his father that he was “not standing up for shit,” a court was told today.

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

He died the next day in hospital from “unsurvivable brain injuries.”

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

The jurors were told that the alleged abuse by Tustin and her partner, Arthur’s father, Thomas Hughes, was “deliberately intended to terrorize the boy.”

The couple denies murder and multiple counts of child abuse.

Jury members from Coventry Crown Court looked at CCTV footage today when told how Tustin allegedly fatally assaulted Arthur at about 2:29 p.m.

Three minutes later, she sent a message to Hughes, who was at the grocery store, saying, “Just punched me in the stomach. He threw himself on the floor.

“Don’t stand up for shit. I closed the door for him.’

She also took a photo of Arthur who appeared to be lying on the floor.

The jury was shown living room images of the lifeless Arthur being carried back and forth by Tustin.

Jonas Hankin, QC, describes the footage: ‘Arthur appears to be unconscious. His eyes are closed and his body appears limp. He falls to the left to the ground. It looks like his body is limp.’

After putting Arthur on the bench, Tustin made a 37-second phone call to Hughes, the court heard.

Prosecutors allege it took 12 minutes to call 999 for medical help.

In the half hour before the alleged attack, Tustin had complained by text message to Hughes that Arthur threw himself “on the wall,” the court heard.

She said to Hughes, ‘I just did it again, this f***ing boy. “Just wanted to do my damn eyebrows.”

Thomas Hughes (left), 29, also told his girlfriend Emma Tustin to “gag” Arthur Labinjo-Hughes (right) after she moaned that he gave 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 have her hair and eyelashes done when she messaged her boyfriend: 'I had to tell Arthur he had messed up

Coventry Crown Court overheard Tustin (pictured), 32, taking the youngster into a house to have her hair and eyelashes done when she messaged her boyfriend: ‘I had to tell Arthur he was crazy’

The trial had previously been told how Arthur looked “skeletal” and “drained” and was too weak to climb the stairs.

A witness said he missed the normal glow of children and instead looked like he had “fear ingrained inside.”

They added that he had tried to flinch when comforting him and appeared to be “petrified.”

Beautician Catherine Milhench gave testimony and sobbed when she recalled seeing the youngster’s condition and told how her boyfriend “sniffed” him a glass of water when he was forced to stand outside a front door.

She told the Coventry Crown Court jurors today how Arthur should call his father ‘sir’, saying: ‘I hated it. I wanted them out.’

Their trial overheard Tustin returning with Hughes to Ms. Milhench’s home on the morning of June 16 to wrap up a hair appointment from the previous day.

The mother of two told jurors she saw Hughes drag Arthur “by the scruff of the neck” and call him a “little bastard.”

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

She said, “He shouted many other things. “Look out, little bastard, I’ll bury you six feet below.”

Mrs. Milhench said: ‘It was continuous; attacking, cursing. Just continuously.’

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

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

He spent much of the deal in a hallway while other kids played outside.

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

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

Hughes (left) charged with forcing his son to endure 'physical and psychological' abuse in the weeks before his death

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

She said Tustin and Hughes were “constantly scolding him” and “screaming back and forth… like a game of tennis.”

“The only time Arthur would speak would be if they said something and he would have to answer ‘okay’ or ‘yes’.

‘If he didn’t answer correctly, Tom would say ‘yes, what?’. Arthur should 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 an earlier visit in February, describing him as ‘skeletal’, ‘drained’ and ‘weak’.

She said, “His legs trying to walk up the stairs would tremble. As if he couldn’t keep himself upright.’

She said Arthur seemed “completely different” from normal six-year-olds and had no energy.

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

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

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

“He asked for more. Because [Tobias] did that, [Arthur] called for T. He wanted to stay with T.’

Tobias Jarman, Mrs. Milhench’s partner, told how he went to see Arthur when he stood at the foot of the stairs on June 16.

He said, “I came down the stairs, put my hand on his shoulder and he cringed. I set him on the curb and tried to reassure him. I said you don’t have to be afraid of me in any way.’

Mr Jarman said Arthur “looked petrified” and without “the normal glow you see in a child’s eyes at that age.”

He added, “He looked like fear was ingrained inside.” Asked to describe Arthur’s physical appearance, Mr Jarman added: ‘Dry, cracked lips. The amount of plaque that has built up on his teeth is significant.

‘Dirty nails. He just looked really dirty. As if he was really playing in the garden, but he wasn’t.

“Malnourished, just unwell really.”

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

As proof, he said he heard Hughes yell, “Stand up the fuck. Just wait till we get home, I’m going to put you two meters under water.’ Mr. Jarman said, “I heard Emma yelling at Arthur, but also telling Tom . . . basically telling Tom to sort it out.”

Arthur died of a fatal head wound. Prosecutors allege that Tustin killed the youngster and that Hughes “deliberately encouraged” the murder.

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

Hughes denies all charges. Asked by Tustin’s attorney Mary Prior, QC, why she didn’t call the police after becoming ‘ill’ from the couple’s treatment of Arthur, Ms Milhench said, ‘I wish I did.

“The way they were just wasn’t right at all.” She added:

‘It is difficult to respond to the parenting of others. In that situation I didn’t know what to do.’

Ms Prior accused Ms Milhench of “exaggerating” her account.

The esthetician denied the claim, saying she had tried to encourage Tustin to take Arthur to school, and to his grandparents, who lived on site.

She said, “I suggested sending him to school so that he has time to spare when things get so bad at home.

“They said they couldn’t because they’ll see the bruises. Emma said it was what Tom Arthur had done.’

She added: ‘I said take him to his grandma, he will be happy and you will be happy, everyone wins.

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

Ms Milhench said she saw Arthur stumble when the family left her home because he was “physically weak.” She claimed that Tustin and Hughes “just stood there” and didn’t try to help him up.

The court had previously been made aware of Whatsapp messages Hughes and Tustin had sent while she was at Ms Millhench’s home.

On June 15, a day before Arthur was reportedly fatally assaulted, Hughes told Tustin to “gag” the schoolboy after she complained about his “back chatting.” Tustin texted, “Back chatting. A joke. Threw himself on the floor and all. Shout abuse. Still screaming.’

Hughes replied, “Go shut him up or something. Tie a 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 bad he is and that he’s thinking about apologizing.”

Hughes added: ‘Kid’s get terminated 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 misbehave with Arthur in her home.

Arthur, who died at Birmingham Children’s Hospital on June 17, 2020, was in the care of Mr Hughes full-time after his mother, Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, was accused of murdering 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 process continues.