Arthur Labinjo-Hughes murder trial: Father threatened to gag son with a rope, court hears


Jurors in the trial of a couple accused of murdering a six-year-old have today viewed footage appearing to show the boy’s stepmother with a bottle of salt allegedly used to poison the youngster.

Prosecutors allege the footage shows accused Emma Tustin, 32, holding the bottle on the evening before the death of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.

A clip of ‘unsteady’ Arthur falling over on the living room carpet before being struck by Tustin was also shown to the court.  

It comes as prosecutors told the jury how Arthur’s biological father – Ms Tustin’s partner – sent messages talking about ‘digging a grave’ a day before his son’s death.

Thomas Hughes, 29, also told Ms Tustin to gag’ Arthur Labinjo-Hughes after she moaned he was giving her ‘attitude’ during a beauty appointment, it was said. 

Coventry Crown Court heard how Tustin 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’.

Hughes replied on Whatsapp said: ‘Just ask T to dig Arthur’s grave for me please.’

When Tustin replied: ‘I’ll say you’ll pay double,’ Hughes responded: ‘F*** me, I’ll pay quadruple’.

Jurors at Coventry Crown Court were told that T was Tobias Jarman, boyfriend of Tustin’s hairdresser Catherine Milhench.

Tustin is alleged to have killed Arthur on June 16 last year after the boy endured a ‘campaign of cruelty’.

He died the following day at Birmingham Children’s Hospital from ‘unsurvivable brain injuries’.

Prosecutors allege the youngster was forced to stand for hours on end in a hallway, deprived of food and drink and poisoned with salt.

Jurors were told that the alleged abuse was ‘deliberately designed to terrorise’ Arthur. 

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’

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

Tustin and Hughes, of Shirley, near Solihull, West Mids, both deny murder and multiple counts of child cruelty.

The court was told that on June 15, a day before Arthur was allegedly fatally assaulted, Hughes told Tustin to ‘gag’ the schoolboy after she complained about his ‘backchatting’.

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.

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. 

While at Ms Milhench’s home in Solihull, 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’. 

Arthur, who collapsed at Miss Tustin’s home on June 16 last year, died from ‘unsurvivable brain injuries’.

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.

‘I’ll end him when I’m back’: Chilling texts sent by Arthur’s father 

Text messages exchanged between father Thomas Hughes and Tustin were also read to the court, with one from his Hughes reading: ‘I’ll deal with him when I’m home and it won’t be pretty.’

Tustin writes: ‘I don’t think I can do this any more. He shuts up as soon as you come through the door. He is malicious, cruel and just generally awful.’ 

Hughes allegedly texted Tustin, telling her: ‘Tell him not to move a muscle – put him by the fridge, put him outside or wherever, give him away. Put him out with the rubbish.’ 

A video filmed by Tustin the following day was also played to the trial, lasting just over a minute and showing Arthur sitting on a tiled floor, wearing a Batman T-shirt, as he slapped himself in the face and raised his foot to his own head in a kicking motion.

After being sent a photo of Arthur, Hughes then responded: ‘He’s an absolute disgrace. That’s not my son.’

Hearing a voice note of Arthur crying, he warned in further texts: ‘I’ll end him when I’m back.’  

In another message, Hughes compares his son to ‘f****** Hitler’ and threatened to ‘take his jaw off his shoulders’.

Hughes denies all charges. On day five of the trial, prosecutors poured through CCTV from inside the house and listened to audio clips recorded by Tustin in the two days before Arthur’s death. 

The court heard how Arthur was kept in the hallway for almost 11 of his 12 waking hours on June 14. Jurors were shown a clip of Hughes appearing to shout at Arthur from the sofa, before putting down his plate of beans and walking purposefully towards the hallway.

Jonas Hankin, QC, prosecuting, said a clip 20 minutes later showed Hughes raise his left arm, appearing ‘to threaten to smack or strike Arthur.’

That night, Arthur was seen in the living room making his bed on the floor. Asked how long Arthur had been off-screen of his 12 hours awake, DC Christopher Herrick told jurors: ‘It’s approx 10 hours and 54 minutes. I believe he is in the hallway for that amount of time that day.’

On June 15, the day before Arthur was allegedly murdered, Tustin returned with Arthur from Ms Milhench’s home but continued to message Hughes.

In one extract, she said: ‘Kid whacks this wall one more time I’m going to lose my f*****g shit.

A second message read: ‘Whacked the wall 1000 times more. Threw himself on the floor. Im f*****g done. He’s leaving. Ill f*****g let him. ‘Screaming at me, little f***er.’

Jurors were told that other children in the house were given chocolate and gifts but none appeared to be given to Arthur.

The court heard that four days before his death Tustin ate McDonalds in front of the telly – while the youngster spent 14 hours in a hallway.

Jurors watched CCTV clips of Tustin munching through two bags of McDonald’s with another child.

She was seen watching TV in her dressing gown and thumbing through her phone as he Arthur was outside.

In response to one clip of Arthur crying sent by Tustin, Hughes replied: ‘The kid is a selfish little c***. I’ll bash my food off his head.’ Tustin messaged back and complained about ‘pausing Corrie’.  

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

‘No-one is going to feed me today. I want to go to nanny’: Jurors hear the harrowing last words of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes

Jurors at Coventry Crown Court heard audio clips of the six-year-old sobbing and begging for mercy in the run up to his death. 

The prosecutor said Tustin recorded more than 200 audio files of Arthur in ‘various stages of distress’, took pictures and videos of him suffering and sent them to Hughes. 

In one recording, Arthur said, ‘Please help me, help me uncle, they’re not feeding me, I need some food and a drink’. 

The youngster was heard weeping in another recording for his uncle Blake, saying: ‘Blake no-one loves me, Blake no-one loves me’. 

In another, Arthur can be heard crying: ‘I want to go to nanny’.

In others, he sobs: ‘No-one loves me. No-one is going to feed me today.’  

She added: ‘I just want a cosy night on the sofa in my duvet, that’s all.’ 

The court was previously told how Tustin sent numerous texts claiming Arthur was ‘screaming’, refusing to eat his food, demanding to go to his grandmother as well as attacking her. 

The couple also spoke of separating and in one row the jury was told that Tustin sent a text saying: ‘I want you but not him. I’m not being treated like that by him.’ 

Hughes replied: ‘It can’t be one and not the other. Unfortunately, it’s got to be both or none.’

In response, the court was told, Tustin messaged: ‘Cya.’   

Tustin has pleaded guilty to one count of child cruelty but denies further charges of the same offence. Mr Hughes, of Shirley, also denies child cruelty offences.

On day three of the trial the jury was shown further text messages, audio and video clips exchanged between the defendants, who rowed multiple times over Arthur.

Tustin made numerous references to being pregnant in the weeks leading up to June 16 and in one message she accused Mr Hughes of ‘turning his back’ on his unborn child, the jury was told.

The court heard a further text to her boyfriend said: ‘You stay with the devil child.’    

In the week before Arthur collapsed Tustin allegedly rowed about him with Mr Hughes, saying: ‘There’s one issue in this house. One person causing s**t.’

In texts on June 11 she also made reference to Mr Hughes hitting Arthur as well as kicking a hole in the door, jurors heard.

In one message read to the court Miss Tustin said: ‘Take your precious child who can’t do wrong and f**k off.’      

Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow (pictured), 26, was previously caged for 18 years after she knifed boyfriend Gary Cunningham 12 times in a drunken rage at their home

Pictured: Gary Cunningham

Arthur’s natural mother Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow (left), 26, was previously caged for 18 years after she knifed boyfriend Gary Cunningham (right) 12 times in a drunken rage at their home

The jury was also given a virtual tour of the house as the prosecution began playing CCTV from inside the property during the days immediately before Arthur’s death.

Arthur died at Birmingham Children’s Hospital on June 17, 2020.

Arthur 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.

Opening the case prosecutor Jonas Hankin stated Tustin was the ‘only possible perpetrator’ behind the alleged fatal assault on Arthur on June 16 because she was looking after him alone at the time.

He argued Hughes ‘shares culpability’ because he ‘intentionally encouraged’ the killing. 

The trial continues.   

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