Words by Sophie McMahon, Comment Print Editor
Trigger warnings for child abuse and death.
The Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, announced on Sunday 5th December that a national review will take place in light of the abuse suffered by six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes which ultimately resulted in his death. His stepmother, Emma Tustin, 32, and father, Thomas Hughes, 29, were jailed last week for 29 and 21 years respectively for their part in his murder.
Announcing the review, Zahawi said: “I have taken immediate action and asked for a joint inspection to consider where improvements are needed by all the agencies tasked with protecting children in Solihull, so that we can be assured that we are doing everything in our power to protect other children and prevent such evil crimes.”
Over lockdown last year, Arthur was subjected to a campaign of abuse at the hands of Emma Tustin. The abuse included poisoning by salt, battery, and starvation in the weeks prior to inflicting a fatal brain injury on 16th June 2020. According to a Coventry Crown Court hearing, at the time of his death he had over 130 injuries.
The Judge likened the violence used by Tustin as having the ability to produce injuries ‘equivalent to those which might otherwise have been produced by a high-speed road traffic collision.’
The Solihull Children’s Safeguarding Partnership launched a local review soon after Arthur’s death and the new investigation, chaired by The National Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel, is expected to provide additional support for their findings.
The review comes amid national outcry regarding concerns that child safeguarding agencies had failed to effectively prevent Arthur’s murder. A BBC news report revealed that social workers visited the boy’s home just two months before his death after his grandmother raised alarms about bruises she had seen on his back. They left finding no cause for concern.
Alongside the national review, a ‘Joint Targeted Area Inspection’ is being led jointly by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services to determine what improvements these agencies urgently need in protecting vulnerable children in Solihull.
The timeline of the review is expected to be agreed upon by the Department of Education over the following days. It will allow time for the findings to be disseminated around the country, to allow lessons to be learnt from the failings surrounding Arthur’s death.
Dame Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner for England spoke on The Andrew Marr Show about the review, saying “I think there is no doubt that lockdown was such a shock to the whole nation that it weakened the system of support, but actually in Arthur’s case he did have a number of professionals around him.”
She continued “The system must support social workers’ professional curiosity, not distract them on other things. This is not a quick fix, an easy recommendation. The best places in the country that do this have taken three, four, five years to do this. It’s a big job but we must do it for Arthur, and we have to do it.”