Audio and video clips recorded in the final weeks of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’ life revealed that he was “scarcely able to articulate his words” and could no longer support his own weight by the time of his murder.
Even Arthur’s stepmother Emma Tustin admitted in court that it was “horrendous” to listen to and watch footage of him captured on her mobile phone and CCTV cameras inside her lounge.
Tustin, 32, was convicted of murdering the boy after inflicting an “unsurvivable” brain injury on the boy during a vicious assault, while home alone with the boy, on June 16, 2020.
Arthur’s father Thomas Hughes, 29, of Stroud Road, was convicted of manslaughter after encouraging the killing.
During Tustin’s five days in the witness box, she was asked to respond to recordings of Arthur in clear distress, including film of him kicking and punching himself, and audio of him repeatedly groaning in apparent pain and asking to be taken to see a doctor.
Tustin claimed she had not realised at the time how bad the abuse was even though texts proved that Arthur was deliberately moved away from his punishment “step” beside the front door when his grandmother delivered post.
During Tustin’s evidence, prosecutor Jonas Hankin QC said it was clear from the tone of her commands to Arthur that she had “relished” being cruel towards him.
Mr Hankin asked: “How could you have believed that his behaviour was mischief and naughtiness rather than a reaction to what you were unreasonably requiring him to do?”
Tustin answered: “I did get it wrong, very wrong.
“It shouldn’t have happened, but it did.”
During one audio clip recorded during the period when Arthur was being forced to “stand like a statue” near the front door for hour after hour, Tustin was heard loudly repeating “do it, do it”.
On another recording, from more than a month before Arthur’s murder, he could be heard screaming and moaning: “I’m scared, I’m scared.”
CCTV from an in-lounge camera captured Arthur on the morning before he was fatally injured, appearing to limp and cry, and struggling to fold up a duvet he had been given to sleep downstairs.
During the trial, Mr Hankin asked Tustin: “You are not a camp guard following the rules are you?
“You relished policing Arthur, we can hear it in your voice.”
Arthur’s murderer answered: “I did follow the rules.
“You don’t hear anything in my voice.
“If you want to make suggestions, I can’t stop you doing that but that’s not the case.”
Around two weeks before Arthur’s death, Tustin recorded herself commanding Arthur to put his arms by his side.
She agreed with Mr Hankin that Arthur had been made to stand in a “model posture” likened in court to a soldier on guard outside Buckingham Palace.
After Mr Hankin said the recordings painted a picture of a child in utter distress, Tustin told the court: “I can hear that now but when I was there I just thought he was acting like a baby.
“At the time because of how much we had going on with Arthur, I didn’t recognise it.”
Tustin, who was unclear as to when Arthur had last been given a treat like an ice cream or allowed to play outside, admitted she had been deliberately cruel but claimed her actions had left her “feeling like absolute crap”.
Mr Hankin also suggested Tustin had developed a hatred for Arthur and viewed him as an “obstacle” to her relationship with his father.
The Crown’s barrister put it to Tustin: “You subjected him to a campaign of appalling cruelty didn’t you. Day after day, taking multiple forms.
“Standing, being assaulted, restricting his food, restricting his drink, assaulting him… the list goes on.”
Although she disputed that Arthur had been denied drinks, Tustin told the jury: “Even though I knew it was cruel, I convinced myself that it had to be done.”