A cowardly stepmother who murdered a defenseless six-year-old boy after torturing, starving and then beating him to death today refused to come to court to hear her sentence, as his biological mother said, ‘Every day I feel like I’m walking around with all the lights turned off’.
Emma Tustin, 32, cowered in her cell in the court building rather than face justice for murdering defenseless Arthur Labinjo-Hughes by repeatedly slamming his head on a hard surface following months of ‘unimaginable’ abuse under the cover of lockdown.
She and Arthur’s father, 29-year-old Thomas Hughes, starved the youngster and force-fed him dishes laden with salt while he begged for food, as part of a degrading, punishing and hellish regime they subjected him to for the last painful months of his life.
Today Arthur’s biological mother, Olivia Labinjo-Halcrow, 29, spoke of her torment at Arthur’s death, saying that ‘without him I am not living, I am only existing’. Her statement was delivered by Arthur’s maternal grandmother, Madeleine Halcrow, who had to regularly pause after bursting into tears.
‘He was just a child, he had no-one to talk to, no one to ask for help when he was scared and needed protecting the most,’ said Ms Labinjo-Halcrow, who is serving 11 years in prison for killing her partner.
‘My son’s bright blue, effervescent eyes lost their sparkle and they weren’t smiling anymore. They took his sparkle and his naivety from him and then they took him from this world.
‘A child, my child, my little love defenceless, trusting and nothing but loving was killed. His short life was stolen – he will never see another Christmas, another birthday. I often dream about him and when I wake, for a split second I forget he’s gone.’
Recalling the last time she spoke to Arthur, Ms Labinjo-Halcrow said: ‘It was the most excited I had ever heard him. He knew he was going to see me soon. He asked how many packets of drumstick squashies I had saved him. I told him he could have as many packets as he wanted as long as he ate his sausage, mash and peas first.
‘Life as I know it will never exist again. Losing Arthur is unqauntifiable. I don’t think I will ever be able to live a full life again. Grief isn’t the right word. How I feel about losing baby bear Arthur. I feel hollow. Every day I feel like I’m walking around with all the lights turned off.’
Ms Labinjo-Halcrow’s statement went on to say Arthur is yet to have a funeral yet – as a result of a family disagreement – and she is ‘heartbroken’ at the thought of his body being stored alone in a cold box. She claimed she has been blocked from having access to Arthur’s body in order to lay him to rest.
Arthur’s paternal grandmother, Joanne Hughes, told the court the youngster had been ‘failed by the very institutions that we as a society rely on to keep our children safe’ – after social services and police were accused of multiple failings in the lead-up to his death.
She added: ‘We as a family are emphatic Arthur would be alive today if [my son] Tom had not met Emma Tustin. Arthur’s death has taken the colour from our life and turned it grey.’
After murdering Arthur, Tustin immediately fetched her mobile phone to take a photograph of him as he lay dying in the hallway to send to her boyfriend.
She called 999 and told the operator Arthur had ‘banged his head’. After police arrived at her home, the self-pitying stepmother cried and tried to convince them the stick-thin boy had attacked her – while several miles away he lay dying in hospital.
He passed away the next day when his life support was turned off, with medics deciding there was nothing they could do due to the catastrophic nature of his injuries.
Arthur’s maternal grandmother said Arthur loved nothing more than to play outside. But he was forced to wear a fluffy onesie for days during a baking heatwave and stand isolated in a hallway for 15 hours a day over six weeks in a ‘punishing regime’.
The little boy, who ‘loved his food’ and looked forward to mealtimes, was starved and forced to drink a lethal ‘salt slurry’ before he died. CCTV caught the bullies yelling at Arthur, out of sight in the hallway, as they tucked into fish and chips and McDonald’s with Tustin’s children.
The pair ‘denigrated, debased and dehumanised him’, taking everything he loved away from him as they turned Arthur into a ‘desperately sad, thin, weak, miserable child’.
Harrowing footage taken in Arthur’s final hours showed the youngster grimacing in pain with his emaciated frame showing through his tattered pyjamas as he shouted ‘no one loves me’ four times then ‘no one is going to feed me’ seven times in 44 seconds.
One of his twisted punishments even saw Hughes cut up the boy’s favourite Birmingham City football shirt in front of him. Yesterday it emerged she has already been attacked in jail by fellow inmates who doused her with salt. She has also taken an overdose and tried to hang herself in prison.
Today Boris Johnson said ‘no child should ever suffer’ in the way Arthur did, and that there are questions that need to be answered over the case.
A spokesman for Mr Johnson said: ‘The Prime Minister found the details of this case deeply disturbing and his thoughts are with those who loved Arthur, and no child should ever suffer in the way that he did.
‘It’s clear there are questions that need to be answered to get to the bottom of how this happened.