Abuse Solicitors Welcome Review into Abuse of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes

Portrait of Liam Goggin
Author:
Liam Goggin
Partner, Abuse Claims
Date:
07/04/2022

Updated 7/4/2022

 

The recent child abuse case involving Arthur Labinjo-Hughes has caused outrage across the UK with many people demanding answers to the same question: why wasn't Arthur protected by social services?

In response to the case, the government are launching a national review into what went wrong and what could be done in future to better protect children from abuse. A further review into the sentences of Emma Tustin and Thomas Hughes (whose abuse caused Arthur’s death) is also set to take place, after arguments that the sentences were too lenient.

It’s deeply concerning that the warning signs were missed by social workers and police during visits to Arthur’s home, despite concerns being raised by his grandmother, Joanna Hughes.

Similarly, family members of 16-month-old, Star Hobson, who was killed by her mother’s partner, also raised their concerns about the abuse to their local council. But sadly the signs were still missed. Bradford Council and the city’s safeguarding agencies have said that they ‘deeply regret that not all the warning signs were seen’.    

We hope that lessons will be learnt from these cases and plans put in place to strengthen child protection in the future.

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What are the Charges?

Emma Tustin (Arthur’s step-mum) has been jailed for life for murder and is set to serve a minimum sentence of 29 years. Arthur’s father, Thomas Hughes, was convicted of manslaughter and will serve 21 years in prison. Both sentences have been referred to the Attorney General to be reviewed.

Star Hobson’s mother, Frankie Smith, has been sentenced to eight years in prison for causing or allowing Star’s death, while Smith’s partner, Savannah Brockhill, has been sentenced to 25 years for her murder.

This isn’t the first time that sentences for child abuse have faced criticism. The adoptive family of seven-year-old Tony Hudgell are founders of Tony’s Law, a campaign which calls for tougher prison sentences for child cruelty offences. Tony had to have both of his legs amputated after being abused as a baby by his birth parents.

Under the new legislation, abusers could face life imprisonment if the abuse they inflicted on a child causes death. We hope these plans for tougher sentences will help those affected by the loss of a child from abuse to gain some closure and justice, and that it goes some way in preventing future child abuse.

Spotting the Signs of Child Abuse

If you suspect that a child is being abused, whether you’re a teacher, neighbour, friend or family member, you should raise your concerns with the police or local authority.

Child abuse isn’t always physical so some of the signs of abuse can be harder to notice but it’s important to trust your instinct if you suspect abuse. And remember, some children might not be aware that they’re being abused or able to express what’s happening to them.

Signs of Physical Abuse

  • bruises;
  • bite marks;
  • broken and fractured bones;
  • symptoms of poisoning e.g. vomiting, drowsiness or seizures;
  • breathing problems;
  • head swelling in babies.

Signs of Emotional Abuse

  • lacking confidence of self-assurance;
  • inability to control emotions;
  • difficultly forming relationships;
  • acting in a way that’s inappropriate for their age.

Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • appearing frightened of people or a particular person;
  • language or sexual behaviour unexpected for their age;
  • changes in mood or eating habits;
  • bruises;
  • bleeding, discharge, pain or soreness in their genital or anal area.

Signs of Neglect

  • poor hygiene and/or appearance;
  • problems with health and development e.g. skin issues, tiredness, medical or dental issues, weight or growth issues;
  • issues at home e.g. unsuitable living environment, having to care for other family members;
  • behaviour changes e.g. becoming withdrawn, depressed, anxious or aggressive, missing school, changes in eating habits.

You can read more about the different types of child abuse and what to look out for on the NSPCC website.

What to do if you Think a Child is Being Abused

It can be difficult to know for certain if a child is being abused, as all children can get accidental cuts and bruises or experience changes in mood from time to time.

If it’s possible to talk to the child on their own, you should try building up trust with them and encouraging them to open up to you about how they’re feeling. You could also try talking to other people who know the child to see if they’ve noticed anything unusual, for example a teacher, family member or friend.

There are also helplines available, such as NSPCC and Childline who offer confidential advice and support.

Reporting Child Abuse

We understand that you could be feeling reluctant about reporting your concerns in case you’re wrong or worried about getting into trouble with the person you’re reporting.

But if you believe a child is at risk, then it’s important to speak up, especially if the child is unable to themselves.

By doing so, you can protect not only the child who is being abused but also other children who could be at risk.

You can report your concerns directly by calling 999 if you think the child is at immediate risk of harm. Otherwise you can report the abuse online or by calling 101. The team you speak to will decide whether to escalate the issue further within the police or contact social services to look into it.

What if Social Services Don’t act?

Sadly, as seen from Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’ case, signs of child abuse can sometimes be missed by professionals.

If the situation you’ve reported is already known by social services, either because it was reported by you in the past or someone else, and you’re worried that it’s not been taken seriously, you can choose to:

  • contact the local authority children’s services;
  • raise your concerns further with the police.

Some Children Still at “Unassessed and Unknown Risk” in Solihull

Following the court case, Ofsted carried out a thorough inspection of the Solihull Local Safeguarding Children Partnership (LSCP) which covers West Midlands Police, Solihull Council and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

The findings of this inspection were released on 21 February this year and revealed that children in need of help were waiting too long for their initial need and risk to be assessed. As a result, a significant number of children in Solihull remain in situations of unknown risk.

In the letter addressed to the LSCP, there was a call for “urgent action” to be taken by all of the agencies who had a part to play in safeguarding Arthur and other children in need of protection and support. This included:

  • the police;
  • children’s social care;
  • probation services;
  • education and health agencies;
  • youth offending team.

What Improvements Must be Made?

West Midlands Police

One of the agencies highlighted as a priority for action in the letter was West Midlands Police. The letter firstly commented on their ‘Connect’ system, used to manage records, as there were a number of issues identified within the database. 

The inspection found that people’s records had been duplicated and that there were children who were not linked to parents or other family members. In one case, a child wasn’t linked to her father in the system who had a history of domestic abuse and drug misuse. Unfortunately, this child had been exposed to a domestic abuse incident and this did not appear on her ‘Connect’ record.

It was also revealed that the police and other agencies’ attendance at child protection meetings has been inconsistent. This has often meant that decisions have had to be made on behalf of a child without all of the relevant information present.

West Midlands Police have accepted the findings of the report and said, “work has continued to improve (our) ability to bring relevant information together and enhance the quality and management of information available”.

Multi-Agency Capacity

Another focus for improvement in the letter was the capacity of agencies within the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH). The inspection noted that agencies, including social services, were understaffed and lacking timelines for important actions to be carried out. This has resulted in vulnerable children facing “drift and delay”, meaning they are waiting too long for an assessment of their needs and the risks they may be exposed to.

Some of the cases looked at in the inspection saw a significant number of children that had not had an initial review of their needs and risk assessment for over a month. The inspection also noted the reluctance of social workers to take permanent or agency roles in Solihull following the court case for Arthur’s murder in December 2021 which has contributed to staffing issues.

It was also found that communication needed significant improvement. As it stands, health, police and social services have limited access to each other’s records which has made it difficult for them to provide vital support to one another.

The Local Authority has now established a ‘multi-agency improvement board’ with an independent chair to drive the changes needed within the MASH network. Solihull Council have said this board will “support, oversee and importantly challenge partner organisations with responsibility for safeguarding children”.

Inspectors have said Solihull Council should have a written statement of proposed action ready for 30 May, setting out a comprehensive multi-agency response. The Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust and West Midlands Police have also started their own internal enquiries.

But we know these issues are not restricted to one area and the letter to the LSCP highlights the importance of the learnings from this case being shared widely. It is essential that the Government takes note of the “long-term systemic issues” found in this inspection and that they implement important changes in the country’s child protection system.

Speak to a Child Abuse Solicitor

If you’d like confidential advice about child abuse, our specialist Child Abuse Solicitors are just a phone call away. We can signpost you to the right support services and advise you on reporting abuse to the police.

If you’re a victim of child abuse yourself and you’d like to know more about reporting your abuse or making a claim, please get in touch.

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