Arthur was poisoned with salt, subjected to regular beatings, denied food and drink and made to stand for hours alone in the hallway, before finally suffering a fatal head injury at Tustin’s home in Solihull last year.
As the killers were sentenced to 29 and 21 years respectively, the case drew condemnation from the Prime Minister as well the Children’s Commissioner and charities, who demanded that more action be taken to avoid missed opportunities so that other “children do not drop off the radar”.
However, analysis of government data by the Telegraph shows that the number of new referrals – a request for services to be provided by children’s social care – dropped by 45,220 between the years ending March 2020 and March 2021. The figure fell from 642,980 referrals to 597,760 – marking the lowest point since records began in 2013.
In 2019 – the most recent year that does not include any data impacted by the pandemic – the number of referrals was 650,930.
Figures 'driven by fall in referrals from schools'
The Department for Education said that the dramatic reduction “was driven by a fall in referrals from schools” and experts believe the missing children may still be in need of help, but have not been identified.
Schools were closed for months during the first lockdown, and even when they reopened on June 8th, Arthur did not return.
Tim Loughton, the former children’s minister, said the pandemic put Arthur and other children at increased risk.
“There was an increase in child abuse because of course they were off the radar. Cases such as this, that might have been detected better at school, or outside, it was all going on behind closed doors,” he said.
Analysis of the data also reveals that the number of re-referrals – where a child has been referred within 12 months of a previous referral – also decreased and is at its lowest point since 2013.
For the same period, the number of re-referrals dropped from 145,390 to 135,850.
The NSPCC described the figures as “stark” and concerns have been raised that tens of thousands more children could be “at risk of malevolent adults”.
'The hard truth is there are no simple solutions to prevention'
Dame Rachel de Souza DBE, children’s commissioner for England told The Telegraph: “I responded to the details of this horrific case as anyone would, with shock, and revulsion.
“We need systems that hear the voice of a child, a child clearly able to articulate the abuse they were suffering, and to be actually heard. We need repeated concerns raised by families to be taken seriously.
“The hard truth is there are no simple solutions to prevention, but Arthur deserves me as children's commissioner and the rest of the system to be asking the difficult questions and confronting the hard changes that may need to be made to protect any child that might be at risk of such malevolent adults, adults he had every right to expect to love and care for him.”
She added: “That a six-year-old should be killed after such sustained abuse, and that his killer, his stepmother, should have recorded his suffering, with not a shred of protection offered from his own father, indeed responsible for abuse himself, beggars belief.
“However, we can’t just ask ourselves ‘why did they do it?’, but ‘how were they able to?’”
'We all have to work together to make sure children do not drop off the radar'
Anna Edmundson, head of policy at the NSPCC, said: “We know from calls to our helpline during the first year of the pandemic that home wasn’t the safest place for some children. Some of those at risk of abuse were isolated during the lockdowns from the professionals who could act to safeguard them.
“We all have to work together to make sure children do not drop off the radar. It’s crucial that professionals, including police, social workers, teachers and healthcare are working effectively together to recognise and respond to the needs children who suffered harm during this period.
“The impact of the pandemic has also shown us more than ever that we all have a role to play in keeping children safe. We would urge anyone who has concerns about a child to speak with the relevant authorities or contact the NSPCC helpline, which provides free and confidential help and advice.”
The comments come as Boris Johnson described Arthur’s case as “appalling” and said that the Government would “leave absolutely no stone unturned to find out exactly what went wrong”.
Speaking on a by-election campaign visit in Oswestry, Shropshire, the Prime Minister said: “I just want to say on the tragic and appalling case of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, like many people I find it hard to read it, let alone to understand how people could behave like that to a defenceless little child.
“And I must say, I'm glad that justice had been done, in the sense that they have both received tough sentences, but that is absolutely no consolation, and what we've got to make sure now is we learn the lessons about that case, we look at exactly what happened, what else could have been done to protect that child.
“And it is early days, but I can tell you this, we will leave absolutely no stone unturned to find out exactly what went wrong in that appalling case.”
An independent serious case review – expected to be published next year – will look at the circumstances surrounding the “terrible tragedy”, including the actions of Solihull Council's social services.Internet Explorer Channel Network