Arthur Labinjo-Hughes’ death shows the dark side of lockdowns

UnHerd, 12/7/2021  by Amy Jones

Domestic abuse skyrocketed when restrictions were in place

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes

The harrowing tale of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes should act as a cautionary tale for many reasons. The six-year-old was subjected to a campaign of abuse and cruelty by his father, Thomas Hughes, and stepmother, Emma Tustin, in the midst of lockdown last year. A campaign involving beating, abuse and poisoning which culminated in his death. Tustin and Hughes were both jailed last week for murder and manslaughter respectively.

Of course, the perpetrators are fully responsible for their behaviour and Arthur’s death. But it is hard not to consider the effect lockdown had on Arthur, and on many vulnerable children like him. It’s reported that Arthur’s abuse worsened when Hughes moved in with Tustin at the start of the first lockdown in March 2020. The absence of school meant the usual checks and safety nets which might have saved Arthur were lost. Even when school recommenced for children in June, his father reported him as continuing to be absent.

Arthur wasn’t the only one. Following lockdown and school closures, it is estimated that 100,000 children have disappeared from the UK schooling system. They left as a result of school closures and never fully returned. While adults were being prioritised in the Covid response, these vulnerable children lost their safety net in the school and slipped through the cracks. In April 2020, months before Arthur was murdered, a Home Affairs Committee even remarked:

The social distancing guidelines have had a profound impact on families in need, as the closure of schools and children’s services has meant that “a lot of children who would be picked up and noticed [ … ] when things are going wrong become invisible.

– Home Affairs Committee

It’s also reported that Arthur’s uncle Daniel Hughes raised his concerns about Arthur to the police. But he was warned that he would be arrested for breaching lockdown rules if he attempted to return to Arthur’s house. It seems that while the state protected Arthur from Covid, it did little to protect him from the danger in his own home.

It should come as no surprise that lockdowns have been horrific for victims of abuse and domestic violence. There is a growing body of evidence showing the effect lockdowns have had on the vulnerable: the NSPCC reported calls to their helpline increased by 32% during lockdown; there was a 65% increase in calls to a helpline for male victims of abuse; visits to refuge websites trebled; and in the EU, there was a 60% increase in emergency calls by women being subjected to domestic violence during lockdown. In a survey for the BBC’s Panorama, two thirds of domestic abuse victims reported being subjected to more violence from their partners during lockdown, and harrowingly, three-quarters said lockdown made it harder to escape their abusers.

Amid happy tales of baking banana bread, watching Netflix and enjoying Zoom quizzes, it is easy to overlook the risk lockdowns pose to the vulnerable. As the panic over the omicron variant rumbles on with increasingly shrill calls for lockdown, it is important to remember that for many of the most vulnerable, lockdowns do not save them, but condemn them to months of abuse and suffering with no escape.

Amy Jones is an anonymous medical doctor with a background in philosophy and bioethics. You can find her on Twitter at @skepticalzebra.


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