A stepmother accused of cruelly abusing, poisoning and then murdering a six-year-old boy has told a jury she heard a “bang” and a “loud crack” just before the youngster’s fatal collapse.
Emma Tustin, who is accused of murdering Arthur Labinjo Hughes, also alleged the boy headbutted her just minutes before the incident, while home alone with her, on June 16, 2020.
But giving evidence on Wednesday, she also told Coventry Crown Court how the boy had “literally got no strength in him”, just minutes before he sustained an unsurvivable head injury.
She made the remark as jurors were shown a photo she took on her mobile phone.
Arthur could be seen in the image dressed in Marvel Avengers pyjamas, looking straight at the camera and sitting with his legs in front of him, with his back up against the front door, visibly crying.
Tustin denies murdering Arthur, who jurors previously heard looked “broken” just a few weeks after he moved into Tustin’s home with his father, Thomas Hughes, at the start of the March 2020 lockdown.
Tustin and Hughes are accused of murder, of poisoning Arthur by forcing him to eat salt-laced meals and inflicting months of “cruel” abuse, including having food and drink withheld, prosecutors have said.
The youngster died in hospital on June 17, 2020 after his head was “banged repeatedly against a hard surface”, leaving him with an “unsurvivable brain injury”.
It is alleged “coercive” 32-year-old Tustin carried out the fatal assault at her home in Cranmore Road, Solihull, while in sole care of Arthur, before photographing her stepson as he lay dying in the hallway, using her mobile phone.
Giving evidence in her defence for a second day on Wednesday, Tustin gave her account of what happened to Arthur as she was taken through video clips from an internal CCTV camera set up in the lounge at Cranmore Road.
The clips showed Tustin repeatedly getting up off the sofa and heading out of shot to the hallway where Arthur was.
She earlier told jurors the boy was made to stay in the hallway for “around 12-14 hours” a day, “seven” days a week, because of the couple’s behavioural regime.
Turning to the video, Tustin told jurors she went to the hallway “because Arthur was on all fours and he had hit his head off the floor”.
Mary Prior QC, representing Tustin, asked: “You’re sitting on the sofa, what’s the first thing that you see or hear, which creates a situation where you get up? What happened?”
Tustin replied: “I heard a bang.
“It was just a really loud bang, like, if you fell down the stairs.
“I didn’t see it, so I didn’t know what it was, I just heard a really loud bang – and a crack.”
Tustin, who is seen on the footage sitting facing the hallway through the lounge doorway about 10ft from where Arthur was, was then asked: “When you looked what did you see?”
Tustin, weeping, replied: “Arthur was face down on the floor.
“On the carpet, he was lying, as if he was lying on his stomach.”
Tustin was asked what she did, and she replied: “I picked him up… and I put him on the stairs.
“I noticed he had a big lump on his head, it was really big, it was swollen.”
She described the lump as being “in the middle of his forehead”.
She added: “I picked him up and I put him on the step, and I thought he’d knocked himself out.
“I checked he had a pulse and he did, and he was breathing.
“His eyes started rolling, I didn’t know what to do, I was running in and out, I didn’t know where to put him.
“I thought he’d knocked himself out and would come around.”
Tustin also claimed footage recorded prior to the “bang”, where she could be seen rubbing the middle of her forehead, was because Arthur had head-butted her.
She said: “He threw his head forward and… that’s where he got me, it was quite sore.”
Tustin’s central claim that Arthur self-inflicted his fatal injuries in the incident on June 16 came after she alleged he had been “throwing himself” against doors, walls and floors in previous weeks.
However, jurors watched a video of Arthur “struggling to pick up his duvet”, recorded at 7.06am the day before he was fatally injured.
In the footage, Tustin comes into the lounge and could be seen pulling an Avengers duvet cover off Arthur – who had to sleep in the lounge – without ceremony.
Arthur can be seen climbing slowly to his feet, crying.
Asked why she had woken Arthur that way, Tustin replied: “I just thought he was being naughty and wouldn’t pick his blanket up, but looking at that footage you can see he’s not being naughty and he is genuinely struggling to pick up his duvet and pillow.
“He’s stood up, and you can see he’s crying – I’d gone back upstairs.”
Asked what she now thought of her actions, she replied: “They were absolutely disgusting, they were unacceptable.”
Ms Prior then asked: “Did you ever hit Arthur?”
She replied: “No, I clipped him round the ear, but I’ve never physically hit Arthur, no.”
Later, Ms Prior asked Tustin: “It is said you killed Arthur, by grabbing him and banging his head and shaking his head. Did you do that?”
“No, I did not,” she replied.
Ms Prior asked: “You’ve admitted a number of acts you’ve described to the jury. How do you feel about what you’ve done?”
Tustin replied: “I feel disgusted, I feel ashamed of myself, as bad as things were – and they were bad – he (Arthur) didn’t deserve that.
“I am sorry for what I’ve done and it is just not acceptable what I did. But I’ve got to live with that.”
Under cross-examination by Bernard Richmond QC, for Hughes, Tustin was asked if she had shown Arthur “one shred of remorse” in June 2020.
Tustin replied: “No – I may not have showed it, but I felt it.”
He then asked: “Your evidence is there were only three occasions when you used physical violence against Arthur.
“They just happen to have been captured on camera each time so apart from those… there were no other episodes of violence?”
She responded: “No there was not.”
On Tuesday, Tustin told jurors she “did not” poison the youngster with salt, but “did” blame Arthur for what her barrister described as the “things going wrong” in her relationship with Hughes.
Though not present for the fatal assault, “bullying” Hughes, 29, of Stroud Road, Solihull, is alleged to have aided in the murder, and also faces three counts of child cruelty.
Tustin, who has admitted one count of child cruelty but denies two other similar charges and murder, continues her evidence on Wednesday.