Grief and outrage of MPs stunned by horror of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes: HENRY DEEDES watches Nadhim Zahawi’s statement on the case of the murdered six-year-old
For just over an hour yesterday, a sense of grief hung over the Commons.
It hovered there like a giant vapour cloud, blocking out any ray of positivity. Along the green benches MPs wore faces as long as violas. Levity and laughter were notably absent.
Some came to offer their opinions, others to dole out criticism. Most of them, though, just wanted to express outright horror at it all.
The time was 4.20pm and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi was delivering his statement on Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, the six-year-old who lost his life at the hands of his father and stepmother and whose suffering, Zahawi noted, most people were still ‘struggling to understand’.
He announced a review into the way the case had been handled. While ‘no government can legislate for evil’, he said, he would ‘take action to stop it whenever we can’.
The Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi gave a statement about the review in the Commons
Arthur was killed by his stepmother, Emma Tustin, 32, and father, Thomas Hughes, 29, (who he is pictured with) subjected him to ‘unimaginable’ torture and abuse
Emma Tustin, 32, (left) murdered Arthur by repeatedly slamming his head on a hard surface after she and 29-year-old Thomas Hughes starved the youngster and poisoned him with salt
Zahawi benefits from appearing to be on top of things. He’s what a sales team leader would call a closer. He gets things done. You can see why Boris made him vaccines minister.
It helps, too, that he commands a sense of respect around the House which is uncommon in the current political climate. It is during moments like these we must all breathe a sigh of relief Gavin Williamson is no longer in post.
Opposite Zahawi sat Labour’s Bridget Phillipson, newly promoted to the education brief during Sir Keir Starmer’s reshuffle. The occasion must have been daunting yet she, too, managed to summon the right tone for the occasion.
Her description of Arthur as ‘the little boy with the happy smile who should still be with us here today’ was greeted with approval around the chamber.
Several MPs came close to tears as they expressed, as parents themselves, the depths of their sympathy. Nobody who witnessed this could have doubted the sincerity of each member. Rarely have I seen the Commons so genuine.
The SNP’s Carol Monaghan (Glasgow NW), a mother of three, graciously thanked Zahawi for his statement which she acknowledged ‘spoke from the heart’. She offered her support for his review. I should point out that this is not something the Scots Nats do very often.
Florence Eshalomi (Lab, Vauxhall) admitted she had hugged her children ‘a little tighter’ last weekend after learning the horrific details of Arthur’s case. Julian Knight (Con, Solihull), in whose constituency Arthur lived, was visibly shaken. Poor fellow looked as though he’d been hauled through a mangle.
He described Arthur as the ‘little lad who never stood a chance’ and urged Zahawi to ensure that no town ‘has its heart broken’ the way Solihull had.
Arthur’s grandmother, Joanne Hughes, took photos of bruises on Arthur’s shoulder (pictured) and made a referral to Solihull Council
By the time Knight resumed his seat, his throat had almost completely blocked up.
From some quarters came frustration with the legal system. Caroline Johnson (Con, Sleaford), a child doctor, said that too often in her experience, those responsible for harming young children were not even prosecuted.
There was outrage, too, at the punishment handed out to Arthur’s father and stepmother, who were sentenced to 21 years and 29 years respectively. ‘Lock them up and throw away the key,’ was the advice of Saqib Bhatti (Con, Meriden).
Some opposition MPs summonsed that age-old complaint – ‘Tory cuts.’ Emma Lewell-Buck (Lab, South Shields) claimed she had warned Zahawi when he was children’s minister that government policies would cost a child its life. A furious John McDonnell (Lab, Hayes) said governments were far too good at setting up reviews and blaming others. The problem was lack of funding. It always is with old McDonnell .
The only other notable moment of day was the swearing-in of Louie French (Con, Old Bexley) who was elected in last week’s by-election following the death of James Brokenshire.
As he took the parliamentary oath and scribbled his signature in the Test Roll, his family waved and beamed proudly from the public gallery. A brief moment of sunshine on an otherwise gloomy afternoon.
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