A jury has retired to consider its verdicts in the trial of a stepmother and father accused of cruelly abusing, poisoning and murdering his six-year-old son.
Emma Tustin, 32, and 29-year-old Thomas Hughes are accused of killing Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, after the boy suffered an “unsurvivable” brain injury on June 16, 2020.
During the eight-week trial at Coventry Crown Court, it has been alleged Tustin carried out the fatal assault while having sole care of Arthur.
She allegedly fetched her mobile phone immediately afterwards to take a photograph of the youngster as he lay dying in the hallway of her home in Cranmore Road, Solihull, West Midlands.
Hughes, of Stroud Road, Solihull, is accused of murder by allegedly encouraging the killing, including by sending a text message to Tustin 18 hours before the fatal assault telling her “just end him”.
Prosecutors have claimed 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.
The usually “chubby, happy” and “always smiley” boy moved into Tustin’s home at the start of the first national lockdown in March 2020, but one witness described how he looked “broken” just before his death less than three months later.
Jurors were told that tests later revealed Arthur had also been “poisoned with salt” in the hours before his collapse, while a post-mortem examination found the youngster had suffered about 130 separate injuries.
Tustin has admitted two counts of child cruelty during the trial, including carrying out three assaults on the boy and also making him sit or stand in her hallway for up to 14 hours a day as part of a behavioural regime.
She has accepted making 200 audio recordings of Arthur, often crying and moaning during these punishments, claiming she did so only to send them to Hughes in order to demonstrate the boy’s “naughty” behaviour while he was absent.
Some of these extracts have been played to the court, including one in which the boy can be heard saying “no-one loves me”, and another in which he cried “no-one’s gonna feed me”.
Hughes, in evidence, has alleged Tustin “mentally abused” and “gaslighted” him into complying with the punishing disciplinary regime, but also admitted lying to school staff who were checking on Arthur’s progress during the first Covid lockdown.
He previously said he had “probably” placed the couple’s relationship above the welfare of his son.
Tustin, who has accepted being cruel to Arthur on occasions and was pregnant with Hughes’ unborn child at the time, has said she was “disgusted and ashamed” by her admitted behaviour.
But she has claimed that Arthur’s fatal head injury must have been self-inflicted, possibly caused by him throwing himself down the staircase in her hallway, and describing how she heard a “bang” and a “crack”.
During her evidence, she said that just because medical experts had concluded Arthur’s death had been caused by head trauma “inflicted upon him by an adult”, that “doesn’t make it true”.
The pair deny murder and two allegations of child cruelty; by administering salt to Arthur between June 1 and 17 last year and by withholding food and drink.
Hughes also denies two further cruelty counts – ill-treating Arthur on multiple occasions by “forcing him to stand, isolating him within the family home, and physically or verbally intimidating him” and “wilfully assaulting Arthur on multiple occasions”.
The jury has been sent home for the day and the trial will continue at 10am on Thursday.