'Thousands of children face abuse this Christmas,' charity warns

Thousands of children face terrifying abuse like little Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson at Christmas: Nearly 16,000 will become victims of domestic abuse over the next fortnight alone, charity warns

  • Early Intervention Foundation says 15,948 children will face abuse at Christmas
  • Charity boss Jo Casebourne is calling for national strategy on child vulnerability
  • It comes after outrage over deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson
  • Arthur, six, was killed by his evil step-mother at their home in Solihull in June
  • Star was murdered at 16 months by her mother’s  girlfriend Savannah Brockhill 

Thousands of vulnerable children – just like murdered Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson – will suffer horrific domestic abuse over the Christmas period, a charity has today warned. 

Amid calls for new powers to protect children in the wake of the shocking murders, charity Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) has warned 15,948 children will face abuse within the next fortnight.

The figure, an estimate by the charity based on annual data, is higher than the 15,006 estimate from last year.

The charity’s chief executive, Dr Jo Casebourne, is calling for a national strategy on child vulnerability and more funding for intervention services.

She said this will ensure children continue to be put ‘front and centre of future decisions about spending and services’. 

Dr Casebourne said: ‘Many children are in homes where there is problematic alcohol or drug misuse, or serious and continuing issues with parents’ mental health. 


Thousands of vulnerable children – just like murdered Arthur Labinjo-Hughes (pictured left) and Star Hobson (pictured right) – will suffer horrific domestic abuse over the Christmas period, a charity has today warned


Partners in death: Savannah Brockhill, 28 and Frankie Smith, 20, have both been convicted over killing Star Hobson


Emma Tustin (pictured left) was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 29 years for the murder of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes (pictured right), Thomas Hughes was jailed for 21 years at Coventry Crown Court after he was found guilty of the manslaughter

‘Nearly 185,000 children were identified as children in need on account of parental drug or alcohol problems, and more than 157,000 owing to their parents’ poor mental health. These numbers are worryingly high.

TIMELINE OF STAR HOBSON’S SHORT LIFE

Star Hobson was only 16-months-old when she was killed at her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire. Here are some of the key events in her short life:

2019

May 21 – Star Hobson is born

November – Savannah Brockhill and Frankie Smith begin a relationship.

2020

January 23 – Smith’s friend Holly Jones makes the first contact with social services over concerns about domestic violence and how much time she is left looking after Star. Police and social workers visit Star but no concerns are raised.

Early February – Star goes to live with her great-grandparents, David Fawcett and Anita Smith at their home in Baildon, Bradford, after Smith says she has split up with Brockhill.

April 26 – Star is removed from Anita Smith’s house by her mother and taken to live with Smith and Brockhill in Keighley.

May 4 – Anita Smith contacts social services after she is told about Brockhill ‘slam-choking’ Star.

June – David Fawcett posts a picture of Star with bruises on Facebook alongside a happier shot and with the caption ‘From this to this in five weeks, what’s going on Frankie?’

June 21 – Star’s father, Jordan Hobson, contacts social services. Police take Star for a hospital examination. Smith says her daughter had hit her face on a coffee table.

June 23 – Another friend of the Smith family contacts social services with concerns.

August 14 – David Fawcett and Anita Smith see Frankie and Star for the last time.

August 28 – David Fawcett is sent a video of Star with bruises and confronts Brockhill.

September 2 – Another of Star’s great-grandfathers, Frank Smith, contacts social services after seeing video of bruises on the youngster’s face. Social workers make an unannounced visit.

September 15 – Social services closes the case after concluding the referral to be malicious.

September 22 – Star is seriously injured at the flat in Wesley Place, Keighley, and dies later in hospital.

2021

December 14 – Following a trial at Bradford Crown Court Brockhill is convicted of Star’s murder while Smith is convicted of causing or allowing the toddler’s death.

‘Beyond the immediate risks to their health and wellbeing, growing up facing a range of persistent adversities can have a huge, negative impact on a young person’s future. 

‘A person who has a parent who misuses drugs or alcohol is themselves more than two and a half times more likely to misuse drugs and alcohol in adolescence and adulthood.

‘A child experiencing mental health problems when they’re young is two to three times less likely to achieve five good GCSEs. 

‘The use of physical punishment in early childhood is associated with conduct problems when children are older.

‘And children who have experienced domestic abuse are significantly more likely to experience abuse in their own adult relationships, to misuse drugs or alcohol, and to have lower levels of wellbeing.’

EIF, a not-for-profit which advocates for effective early intervention to improve the lives of children and young people, said over the course of the past year nearly 260,000 children were identified as being vulnerable to abuse at home.

Of those, the foundation estimates that 3.2 per cent are under-11 and 2.5 per cent are between 11 and 17.

The charity’s chief executive Dr Jo Casebourne says this equates to 15,948 over the two-week festive period.

Dr Casebourne warns there has been a decline of 48 per cent in early intervention funding in recent years, ‘while money spent on later, costlier, and higher-intensity interventions – such as youth justice, looked after children’s services and safeguarding – increased by 34 per cent to £7.6 billion’. 

The warning comes after campaigners earlier this month led calls for a dramatic overhaul of the UK’s social services system following the horrific killings of Star Hobson and Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.

Star was murdered, aged just 16 months, by her mother Frankie Smith’s girlfriend Savannah Brockhill after suffering months of abuse in her home in Keighley, West Yorkshire during the Covid lockdown last year.

Frankie Smith 20, was handed an eight-year sentence for allowing her daughter’s death.

Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, aged six, was murdered by his cruel stepmother Emma Tustin in June.

His inadequate father, Thomas Hughes, who watched on as the sickening abuse took place, was also jailed for manslaughter.

It was revealed in Star’s case that social services had missed five opportunities to stop her killers in the months before her death on September 22, 2020. 

In the aftermath of Star’s case, Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it ‘shocking and heartbreaking’, adding on Twitter: ‘We must protect children from these barbaric crimes and ensure lessons are learned.’ 

And Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi vowed: ‘We will never hesitate to take robust steps to prevent tragic cases like this happening’.

Former Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield, the chairwoman of the Commission on Young Lives, warned that the Covid lockdown ‘had brought its own opportunities for those who harm, groom and abuse children’.

She told MailOnline: ‘It is time we made improving children’s social care and protection as big a priority as reforming adult social care. I hope the Government will act swiftly on the proposals that come out of the forthcoming independent review into children’s social care.

Former Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield, the chairwoman of the Commission on Young Lives, warned that the Covid lockdown ‘has brought its own opportunities for those who harm, groom and abuse children’

‘The horrific murders of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson are a stark and tragic reminder that our children’s social services system is facing a perfect storm after years of under investment and the diminishing of early intervention and family support.’

The current Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, told MailOnline: ‘It is clear that there are serious lessons that need to be learnt. 

‘Applying these lessons across the country is the biggest challenge facing us. It is incumbent on all of us working with children to step up to that challenge.’

She added: ‘The beautiful, smiling picture of Star Hobson reminds us how precious the life of each child is. 

Social services cleared baby Star Hobson’s killers five times

Social workers investigating the couple who killed innocent Star Hobson cleared them five times – even declaring a referral to them was ‘malicious’ the week before she was murdered.

The authorities fell for mother Frankie Smith, 20, and her 28-year-old girlfriend Savannah Brockhill’s lies, despite a series of concerns raised by relatives.

During an unannounced social worker visit to their Keighley home on September 15 last year Star was so dazed by the abuse she had suffered she walked into a sofa.

She had bruises on her face and shins but the Bradford City Council worker believed Brockhill’s explanation she’d fallen down the stairs.

In fact she was being ‘choke slammed’, swung by her leg and hit in the face by the twisted couple.

They referred to her as a ‘brat’ and forced her to stand facing the wall for long periods of time during their reign of cruelty.

In total two friends and three relatives – including Star’s own father – had reported them to social services but they were still allowed to keep her.

As Brockhill was today convicted of murdering her and Smith for allowing her death, serious questions were being asked of the authorities.

Two month ago the head of the council’s Children Services department Mark Douglas resigned.

Ofsted rated the service as ‘inadequate’ in 2018 and warned ‘some children were at serious risk of harm’. In June this year it was hit with a ‘direction to improve’ over a ‘slow pace of change’.

 

‘What she endured is unspeakable but it must not be unthinkable. We need to ask the hard questions about how this happened, and the even harder questions about how this is the second case in recent weeks.’

The NSPCC said ‘we must do all we can to prevent cruelty and abuse to children’. 

A spokesman added: ‘Star Hobson’s young life was cut brutally short and it is appalling that she was harmed by the very people who should have been keeping her safe.

‘Star was subjected to horrific cruelty and violence over several months that no child should ever have to experience.’

Leader of Bradford Council Susan Hinchcliffe said a review was under way into agencies’s contact with the family but said: ‘Star was let down and we all want to know if anything could have been done differently.’

Tory MP Robbie Moore called on Ms Hinchliffe and the council’s chief executive Kersten England to resign, saying: ‘Bradford Council bosses should hang their heads in shame.’

The Department for Education said Star’s death was ‘deeply disturbing’ and said it would ‘not hesitate’ to remove children’s services control from Bradford Council ‘if necessary’. A spokesman said the review into Star’s death will feed into the national review of Arthur’s death commissioned by Mr Zahawi last week.

Asked about the response of social services outside court, Star’s great-grandfather David Fawcett said: ‘It’s disgusting because there were five referrals. Not one of them did anything. It’s just beyond belief, really.’

Asked whether social services had missed the ‘blindingly obvious’, Mr Fawcett, who is also Smith’s grandfather, said: ‘Yes.’

He added: ‘I’m just pleased we got a murder conviction for Savannah Brockhill. To me she was just pure evil. I just can’t believe she could do something like that to a baby girl. We were just a quiet, lovely family and she ascended from the bowels of hell and just completely devastated and wrecked our family.’

Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Swift, of West Yorkshire Police, was asked outside Bradford Crown Court whether enough was done to protect Star.

He said: ‘There is a review that’s ongoing, a local children’s safeguarding practice review.’ 

Meanwhile, details of Arthur’s cruel abuse and treatment, including being poisoned with salt, emerged during the Tustin’s trial at Coventry Crown Court and caused widespread shock, revulsion and grief.

The youngster had been subjected to months of ‘unimaginable’ abuse by Hughes and Tustin before he was murdered during lockdown on June 17 last year. 

In one haunting video,  Arthur was seen struggling to stand before slumping to the floor of the living room. 

Hughes met mother-of-four Tustin (pictured) online before the couple moved with Arthur into her home near Solihull in the West Midlands after the government announced the lockdown 

He cried ‘no one loves me’ four times as he struggled to walk to the other side of the room while appearing to be suffering from a limp. 

Arthur suffered a total of 130 injuries all over his body, including ‘unsurvivable’ brain damage.

He had also been tortured, poisoned with salt and forced to stand on his own for up to 14 hours a day prior to his death.

Tustin often messaged Hughes within minutes of him leaving the home with an audio file of Arthur crying accompanied by a text saying words to the effect of ‘started again’ or ‘still going.’

Tustin was jailed for life with a minimum term of 29 years, while Hughes was sentenced to 21 years’ imprisonment for manslaughter after encouraging the killing –  including by sending a text message to Tustin 18 hours before the fatal assault telling her ‘just end him’.    

It emerged in court that Arthur was seen by social workers during the first national lockdown just two months before his death in Solihull, West Midlands.

But they concluded there were ‘no safeguarding concerns’ and closed the file. 

In the aftermath of Arthur’s case, Boris Johnson backed new proposals which would see child killers prevented from being released from prison.

‘Arthur’s Law’ would see anyone who carries out the murder of a child sent to prison indefinitely.

‘Anyone who plans then carries out the murder of a child should never be released from prison, so we’re toughening the law to make whole-life orders the starting point for such abhorrent crimes,’ Mr Johnson told the Sun.

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