There were ‘no security concerns’ over a six-year-old boy weeks before he was allegedly murdered by his father and stepmother, a court has heard.
Solihull social worker Jayne Kavanagh declared Arthur Labinjo-Hughes “safely jumped and pointed at the ceiling” to indicate how happy and safe he felt on Cranmore Road, Shirley.
She said his father Thomas Hughes and stepmother Emma Tustin claimed it was a ‘happy household’.
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Ms Kavanagh said she only saw a single “faint” bruise on Arthur’s back, but admitted she was “really confused and in shock” over photos showing several visible bruises taken the previous day.
Hughes, 29, and Tustin, 32, deny having murdered Arthur and several cases of child abuse. The boy suffered fatal injuries in their home on June 16 last year after allegedly being subjected to systematic assaults, including hours of forced standing and isolation, deprivation of food and water, and salt poisoning.
Kavanagh confirmed that she and a colleague visited Cranmore Road on April 17 last year.
She said there was a concern for Tustin’s welfare after Hughes told her to ‘go and kill yourself’ in a row, while Hughes’ mother Joanne Hughes had claimed that Tustin had inflicted several bruises on Arthur.
Ms Kavanagh told the court that Hughes and Tustin said Arthur had “acted out” and “did not listen to rules” that they believed could be due to his “traumatic life experiences” – including that his biological mother was in prison.
The defendants claimed that Arthur was ‘jealous’ of Tustin’s other children and had torn up one of her mother’s day cards.
Mrs Kavanagh said Hughes and Tustin were of the opinion that it was a “happy household that they all came together”.
The witness remembered that the explanation for a bruise in Arthur’s back was a play-by-match with a set of boxing gloves with his step-siblings, who had gone out of control.
She confirmed that she spoke to Arthur and Tustin’s son alone and asked them to indicate how safe and happy they felt on a scale of 0 to ten – with zero represented by the floor and being unhappy and insecure, and the ceiling is it opposite.
Mrs Kavanagh said: “Both boys jumped up very confidently and pointed to the ceiling and said they felt very happy and very safe and said they were in the attic.”
She told the jury that she visited the children’s bedroom in the house, where there were two single beds for Tustin’s two children and a portable bed for Arthur.
Ms Kavanagh said at the time that it was not necessary to refer the case to a full assessment of child services.
The court heard that Hughes was offered an ‘early help’ program coordinated by a support staff member, which would have included ‘life story’ work with Arthur, who explored and understood his past.
Mrs Kavanagh confirmed that Hughes ‘wanted to think about it’, but later denied the support, saying he did not need it.
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The witness accepted that a week later, on April 24, Joanne Hughes called and sent pictures of bruises on Arthur’s back taken on April 16.
Mrs Kavanagh said she was ‘really confused and in shock’ but reiterated that the bruises seen on the photographs were not apparent when she visited 24 hours later. She confirmed that no further steps were taken to reassess Arthur’s safety.
In cross-examination, Tustin’s lawyer Mary Prior asked if it was necessary to take “coercive measures” after the April 17 visit. Ms Kavanagh said: “In April, on that visit, there were no security concerns.”
The trial continues.
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