The media headlines over the weekend reflected a national sense of outrage over what happened to Arthur Labinjo-Hughes. He died in June 2020 aged just six years old.
The death of Arthur was a cruel tragedy. Last Friday, his father and stepmother were convicted of his killing and both received lengthy jail sentences. Press reports detailed the suffering he experienced. The accounts were harrowing. It appears that his grandmother tried to raise the alarm but her voice was not listened to and even three months before Arthur’s death, children’s services apparently had no concerns. West Midlands police were supplied with photographic evidence of bruising, but seemingly failed to act. There will now be a serious case review to determine how this tragedy unfolded. The government has also ordered a wider review of children’s safeguarding.
One factor that seemed to play a part in this very sad case was the impact of the pandemic. With schools closed Arthur was off the radar of the authorities. He was isolated at home and no-one was able to monitor how he was faring. Some commentators are rightly saying that this should not ‘let the (Solihull) council of the hook’, especially as statistical evidence shows that referrals to children’s social care fell by about a fifth in the first few months of the pandemic (Local Government Association research). There is an obvious concern that levels of vigilance were not maintained, when at the same time there was growing recognition of significant pressure on families, child and adolescent mental health and domestic abuse. However the abuse that Arthur suffered appeared very deliberate as opposed to being a consequence of family stress.
It will be for the inquiries that have been set up to determine how systems failed Arthur and who has to be held accountable. As this column has often emphasised before, in these still uncertain times, our churches can be well placed sometimes to offer the first chance to spot that something is not quite right and report it. Our mantra remains recognise, respond, refer and record. But arguably there is an earlier, more proactive stage when we know that families and vulnerable adults are under pressure – come, look and see. Not quite like Philip and Nathaniel in John’s gospel, but stepping forward to make the right connections.