OPINION: Who has been held to account over Arthur and Star murders?

Undated family handout file photo of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. In December, 32-year-old Emma Tustin was

Undated family handout file photo of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. Emma Tustin was jailed for life for his murder. - Credit: PA

This week was probably the most intense and significant session I’ve ever had on the Education Select Committee. We looked in depth into the tragic deaths of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and one-year-old Star Hobson. Both deaths were tragedies that shocked the nation.

Both Arthur and Star were tortured and killed by the individuals most responsible for their care.

Arthur was murdered by his father's girlfriend after being mistreated over the course of several months by her and his father, who was part of the mistreatment throughout.

Star was murdered by her mother’s girlfriend, a nightclub bouncer who severely assaulted her after months of abuse. 

They were about as innocent and vulnerable as it is possible to be and understandably millions of people up and down the country will be asking the same question; how on earth did this come to be?

It’s incredibly hard for us to get our heads around the kind of evil that led to the deaths of Arthur and Star. The lockdown we all had to live through clearly contributed towards what happened.

Ultimately though, we all would have hoped that the state, whether in the guise of the local police or social services, would have ensured that both Arthur and Star didn’t meet the tragic ends they did. Sadly, this wasn’t the case. The whole purpose of the session on the Education Select Committee this week was to understand why.

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We had two panels on Tuesday morning. The first was with the Annie Hudson who was the Chair of the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel (that carried out a review of both tragic incidents). The second panel consisted of representatives from both Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council and Bradford Borough Council. The two local authorities that failed Arthur and Star respectively.

Over the course of both panels, it was outlined in detail how social workers from both local authorities made catastrophic errors of judgement that meant that multiple opportunities to save both Arthur and Star were missed. 

In Arthur’s case family members reported extensive bruising on his back leading to a visit from a social worker who inextricably seemed to miss most of the evidence, and then reported back that Arthur appeared “very happy and very safe”. The extent to which the social worker in question had the wool pulled over their eyes and allowed themselves to be manipulated was extraordinary.

A big job of a social worker is the ability to read between lines and pick up on the body language of those who might be treated like this. I do not disparage the profession as I know there are many who every day who make correct calls and do incredible work in our communities.

However, considering how dramatically wrong these judgements were in the cases of Arthur and Star, I do question whether the training is sufficiently focused enough on behavioural sciences to ensure that these instances are never missed. 

On top of this, when Arthur’s school reopened in June, he was absent for a week. During this time his absence was not challenged by the council and obviously should have been.

What makes this starker is that concerns had been raise about his welfare only two months prior, yet Arthur was not considered in danger, and he suffered terribly as a result of this oversight. 

In the case of Star Hobson, five separate representations were made by concerned family members. All were dismissed. Some of the representations were made by Star’s grandparents. These concerns were registered by Bradford Borough Council as being “malicious”, due the female partner of Star’s mother, who was ultimately responsible for Star’s death, claiming that these were due to Star’s grandparents being “homophobic”.

Depressingly and not for the first time, political correctness for want of a better word, appears to have contributed towards young vulnerable people not being protected by the authorities.

Both myself and my colleagues on the Select Committee didn’t hold back when it came to the questioning of the witnesses giving evidence, particularly the representatives from Solihull and Bradford Borough Councils.

To be honest I continue to be shocked that the Chief Executive of the Labour-run Bradford Borough Council continues to be in place. She has been the Chief Executive since 2015 and throughout her period at the helm Children’s Services, her Council appears to have been in the doldrums.

In 2018 the Department was found to be “Inadequate” and is one of the only examples in the country where the Government has fully stripped Children’s Services from the authority. 

The tragedy of Star Hobson’s death didn’t come out of nowhere. It appears to have been the culmination of years of failure. Years of failure that the Chief Executive failed to tackle.

As I said at the session, “this is what failure looks like”. Why she hasn’t resigned or been replaced, only the Labour leader of Bradford Borough Council will be able to tell you.

With regard to Arthur’s death, I asked the Chief Executive of Solihull Council whether he would be happy for the two social workers who were most culpable for missing opportunities to safe Arthur to continue to work at the authority supporting vulnerable children. I was amazed when he answered without hesitation, “yes”. 

Mistakes can happen, I appreciate that social workers work under pressure, however the scale of the failures that were connected to both Arthur’s and Star’s death lead to my bewilderment that no one has actually lost their job at either local authority.

Where has the accountability been? Who has been held to account?

The answer I’m afraid is nowhere, with both councils not seeing the radical overhaul it so obviously needs. 

This was an incredibly emotional and difficult Committee session to take part in. At the heart of these failures by social workers and the respective councils, there are two children no longer with us, who should be.

Their murderers have been rightly and severely punished, but the mistakes that allowed the abhorrent treatment cannot be allowed to happen again.

I wish that I had full confidence in the words heard and the changes promised, but unfortunately, I don’t. The situation that enabled these murders to happen must be stamped out across the country, and for the sake of Arthur and Star’s memories, we must see change now. 

- Tom Hunt is the Conservative MP for Ipswich.