His face stared from the front pages of every newspaper — the wide, trusting, cheeky smile of a giggling six-year-old boy who should have had his whole life before him. His pitiful cries of ‘Nobody loves me’ and ‘No one is going to feed me’ will haunt us all.
Those pleas accused the system — social services and police — that ignored the obvious signs of abuse, as well as the two wicked adults whose duty was to protect the child from harm.
But is that all?
I believe they also accused lockdown itself and the mindset that wilfully ignored the often unseen dangers of locking down a whole country — and those who still approve such measures.
Of course, Arthur Labinjo-Hughes could have been murdered at any time. But make no mistake, lockdown put countless individuals (children as well as women enduring domestic violence) in greater danger.
What chance did that tragic child have?
Of course, Arthur Labinjo-Hughes could have been murdered at any time. But make no mistake, lockdown put countless individuals (children as well as women enduring domestic violence) in greater danger, writes Bel Mooney
Many of you, like me, will have been almost unable to read the details of what Arthur’s father and his girlfriend did to the boy over those terrible months — and I cannot bear to recall them here. You will also have wished them to be treated in the same way by fellow inmates, as they start their prison terms.
Now the blame-game starts. Why did social services dismiss warnings that Arthur was being ill-treated? Why did a visiting social worker choose to believe stepmother Emma Tustin’s lies that Arthur was fine and happy, and call the hellish place ‘a happy household’?
Why did West Midlands Police see photographs of Arthur’s bruises but conclude there was ‘no further role’ for them, because social services were already involved? Why was a devoted grandmother disbelieved? Why didn’t the school ask why Arthur failed to go back to class on June 8, 2020, just nine days before his death?
Official failings are obvious, and all those questions must be answered.
Yet isn’t there another key question? Did the lockdown imposed on Britain because of Covid play a significant role in this poor little boy’s death?
If Arthur had been attending school as normal, wouldn’t a teacher have spotted his bruises, his increasing frailty, his fearfulness?
Many of you, like me, will have been almost unable to read the details of what Arthur’s father and his girlfriend did to the boy over those terrible months — and I cannot bear to recall them here
How bitterly ironic it is now to remember that we were all instructed to ‘Stay home’ in order to ‘Stay safe’. For Arthur — and many helpless children like him — the national lockdown ensured that the prison called ‘home’ was the last place on earth they were ‘safe’.
Former children’s minister Tim Loughton has stated unequivocally that lockdown ‘exacerbated’ Britain’s child-abuse crisis. It created a lethal combination of increased stress and alcohol consumption, children unable to play outside, boredom, anxiety and isolation.
The NSPCC has repeatedly tried to warn of the dangers posed to children from abuse during lockdowns. The children’s charity said there had been a 23 per cent rise in calls from children to its abuse helpline during the pandemic.
Last year, a friend told me how chilling it was to hear, while jogging past a run-down housing block, a man yelling at a child inside: ‘I f***ing hate you, you little ****, I do!’ and then a cacophony of shouts and cries. What was happening in that home?
For Arthur — and many helpless children like him — the national lockdown ensured that the prison called ‘home’ was the last place on earth they were ‘safe’
The other evening, I was lectured by a lockdown-avid, Left-wing woman who gave ‘better safe than sorry’ as a reason for turning the key on us all once more. All people (and there are very many) brainwashed into believing the Government should respond to the latest variant Omicron by imposing another lockdown should recall those 130 areas of bruising medics found on Arthur’s body after his murder.
In court, they were described as equating to ‘a bruise for every day of lockdown’. For Arthur, lockdown meant only acute danger and unimaginable pain and fear. Not allowed to attend school and cut off from his extended family, he had no escape from the vicious people who became his killers.
Last year, National Education Union leaders supported lockdown — criticising the Government for not taking the decision much earlier, when Sage had advised that schools and colleges should close to tackle infection rate rises.
But what about the children for whom school is the only lifeline in their desperately sad — and fear-filled — lives? With school closed, Arthur’s teachers could only make calls, then send texts and emails. How easy it is, at that distance, for abusive parents to lie.
When it shut during the first lockdown in April 2020, staff at Dickens Heath primary school in Solihull, West Midlands, contacted Arthur’s father Thomas Hughes for welfare checks.
Thomas painted an idyllic picture of his son’s life. Replying on the school’s messaging platform, Thomas claimed his son was ‘grand’ and had been ‘enjoying the garden’ and ‘decorating his bedroom’. In one exchange, he wrote: ‘Arthur is plodding along, enjoying the sunshine and messing about the garden.’
The plausible bully, in thrall to his evil partner, wrote cheerily: ‘We might have a barbecue at the weekend. He just wants to see his friends now, as he misses them a bit. Thank you for checking in.’
Nikki Holmes, founder of the Safer Together child protection consultancy, says Arthur’s case showed how lockdown ‘ramped up the risk in some families’ and left the professionals dealing with them with ‘limited oversight’.
She added: ‘Lockdown made it harder to spot when things were going wrong. An examination is needed of the wider system.’ One of the most bizarre aspects of this terrible story is the attempted intervention of Arthur’s uncle, Daniel Hughes.
It almost defies belief that when Daniel reported his concerns about his nephew’s welfare to the police he was brushed off — and actually threatened with arrest for breaching lockdown.
Thomas painted an idyllic picture of his son’s life. Replying on the school’s messaging platform, Thomas claimed his son was ‘grand’ and had been ‘enjoying the garden’ and ‘decorating his bedroom’
Yes, that’s correct. When a family member attempted to raise the alarm, he was warned that he could be arrested if he went back to his brother’s house to check on the child.
It seems that obeying lockdown rules was obviously far more important than a child’s life. Isn’t that a classic example of brainwashing?
Detective Inspector Laura Harrison, of West Midlands Police, has emphasised the part that isolation played: ‘The manipulation and the toxic relationship between Tustin and Hughes meant the family were cut out of Arthur’s life and didn’t play a part.
‘The lockdown meant professionals didn’t have the opportunity to monitor him in the same way they would do with children normally. I do think that lockdown contributed.
‘The professionals who would ordinarily have been involved in Arthur’s life, such as teachers, weren’t having that contact with him and spotting changes in his behaviour or bruises on his body.’
So there it is.
It seems that obeying lockdown rules was obviously far more important than a child’s life
Of course there are only two real criminals in this case — Emma Tustin and her partner, Arthur’s father.
Theirs were the hands raised, the warped minds that devised the torments, the shrivelled hearts hardened to the suffering of an innocent child. They have been found guilty and sentenced.
Yet if you happen to find yourself so scared of Omicron (a name that sounds to me like a sci-fi Death Star) that you start arguing for more lockdowns, think of those homes that are prisons.
Think of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and realise how much communities need to be in touch and alive to what is happening in our midst.
Think of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and realise how much communities need to be in touch and alive to what is happening in our midst