EXCLUSIVE: Britain could get a register for child-beaters after horrific deaths of Star Hobson and Arthur Labinjo-Hughes following determined campaign by adoptive mother of seven-year-old beaten so badly he lost both his legs
Britain is in line to get a new child cruelty register that would see abusers be ‘subject to stringent legal requirements’ following a tireless four-year campaign by the adopted mother of Tony Hudgell.
Paula Hudgell fostered baby Tony in February 2015 after he was admitted to the Evelina hospital with a catalogue of appalling injuries including multiple organ failure and fractures – inflicted by his biological parents.
In the following weeks, Tony, now seven, survived 23 operations and eight blood transfusions. He fought for his life and amazed doctors who said that ‘no child’ his age had ever ‘survived’ Tony’s life-threatening injuries.
But in a new victory for Paula, following four-years of tireless campaigning – a new child cruelty register has won the backing of Justice Secretary Dominic Rabb to help protect children from abuse and neglect.
It comes following the horrific killings of 16-month-old Star Hobson and six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes.
Baby Star was murdered 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 in September 2020.
Meanwhile, Arthur was beaten and tortured before his murder last December at the hands of stepmother Emma Tustin at her home in Solihull, West Midlands in yet another child abuse case that shocked the nation.
Paula Hudgell, of Kings Hill in West Malling, Kent, fostered baby Tony, now seven, (pictured) in February 2015 after he was admitted to the Evelina hospital with a catalogue of appalling injuries
But in a new victory for Paula (left), following four-years of tireless campaigning – a new child cruelty register has won the backing of Justice Secretary Dominic Rabb to help protect children from abuse and neglect
Tony’s birth parents Jody Simpson (left) and Tony Smith (right) were both jailed for child cruelty and received the maximum sentence of 10 years
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab with Tony and his adoptive mother and father Paula and her husband Mark, 54
It comes following the horrific killings of 16-month-old Star Hobson (left) and six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes (right) in child abuse cases that shocked the nation
Paula, of Kings Hill in West Malling, Kent, told MailOnline: ‘A child cruelty list would provide extra protection to those who are the most vulnerable in our society.
‘So many children tragically lose their lives. After those convicted of attacking youngsters have completed their sentence, they are released from prison – there is no follow-up. They can go on to have more children and change their address and name without any worry.
‘If someone was convicted of a child cruelty offence, the register would make them subject to the stringent legal requirements of having to notify police of where they live, details of their conviction and provide details of their bank account – and any changes to that information.
‘It would make it harder for a person to commit the same offence. They won’t be able to work with children and if they have kids, they will be taken into care. Police will be able to keep tabs on them.
Paula first met Tony in February 2015 after he was taken to the Evelina London Children’s hospital
How can a child cruelty register keep children safe?
A child cruelty register would work in the same way as the sex offender list, which was set up in 1997, and is run by police.
The sex register contains the details of anyone convicted, cautioned or released from prison for sexual offence against children or adults.
Paula told MailOnline: ‘The list would make it so police are able to keep tabs on child abusers by having access to their address, bank account and if any of those details change.
‘The abuser will not be able to work with children or be near them. Their children will be taken into care and any future children will be removed from them by social services.
‘Police will also have all the details of their conviction and if any of their details change. including their address.
‘It makes it harder for them to commit the same offence.’
‘When I met Justice Secretary Dominic Raab in December, he asked me if there was anything more the government could do after they passed Tony’s Law. When I mentioned the child cruelty register – he was surprised we didn’t already have one.
‘Now, it is finally being discussed – with a report set to come out in May. We need to do everything we can to protect those who don’t have a voice. Tony was just four-months-old with broken limbs and bruises when I was asked to go and visit him in intensive care.
‘He couldn’t speak up for himself and now he has life-long injuries. Too many children tragically lose their lives and enough is enough.’
Justice secretary Dominic Raab sent a letter to Paula who revealed the news on her Twitter account.
Mr Raab wrote: ‘The National Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s review of the deaths of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson provides and opportunity to consider whether the establishment of a child cruelty register would help prevent such horrendous crimes happening again.
‘I am pleased to confirm that the Education Secretary has shared my request with the Panel Chair, Annie Hudson, to consider how the Review can further our thinking in this space. The Terms of Reference of the review commit it to making recommendations about how national safeguarding practice and systems should change to protect children in the future.
‘The National Review is expected to report by the end of May. I can assure you that the Government will consider its recommendations very carefully and that we will continue to do everything in our power to protect vulnerable children from abuse. ‘
It comes as the mother-of-eight recently won her crusade for Tony’s Law, which introduced tougher sentences for child cruelty.
It will increase the maximum penalty for causing or allowing serious physical harm to a child from ten to 14 years, while causing the death of a child will rise from 14 years to life and is currently awaiting Royal Assent, which is the Queen’s agreement that is required to make a Bill into an Act of Parliament.
Doctors at the Evelina had battled tirelessly to save Tony’s life for six-weeks after he sustained injuries and was left without medical attention
Paula first met Tony in February 2015 after he was taken to the Evelina London Children’s hospital.
She said: ‘When I first met Tony, I fell in love with him. Despite the fact he was on extremely strong painkillers, he looked up at me with his huge brown eyes and I was instantly smitten.
‘Doctors at the Evelina had battled tirelessly to save Tony’s life for six-weeks after he sustained injuries and was left without medical attention.
‘His biological parents left him in agony with no medical treatment for 10 days, which they later said was because they were waiting for someone to come and fix their boiler. By the time he was taken to hospital, he was grey, unresponsive, and frothing at the mouth.
‘At just 41 days old, Tony had all his limbs broken, dislocations of his ankle, toes, thumbs and multiple fractures.
In December 2021 Tony met with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their festive carol concert at Westminster Abbey
‘Doctors discovered he had a mass on the brain that left him on life support. He developed sepsis and had multiple organ failure, which was caused by him being swung around by his ankles.
‘He weighed just 9lbs 7oz – and that was with blue plaster casts on each of his legs. It was heartbreaking to see but I knew I couldn’t stand by and do nothing.
‘A nurse told me he would need care for the rest of his life and explained the future for Tony was unknown, as no other child his age had survived such appalling injuries. Tears streamed down my face.’
After discussing it with her husband Mark, 54, and their seven children, Ben, 32, Ryan, 30, Chloe, 27, Kyle, 20, Jess, 15, Jaden, 14, and Lacey, nine, the pair decided to foster Tony.
Initially, Paula questioned whether they could offer Tony the support he needed. But after giving him his first cuddle, she knew he would come home with her.
Initially, Paula questioned whether they could offer Tony the support he needed. But after giving him his first cuddle, she and Mark fostered him
She said: ‘I sent a picture of him to Mark and the kids and said, “I can’t leave him here. I have to bring him home.”
‘When he arrived, he was still having to take strong antibiotics and pain relief. He was very shut down. Even when he opened his eyes, he was like a shell.
‘There was nothing there. There was no expression. All I saw was this deep fear and sadness. He was in so much pain.’
Tony’s biological parents were still allowed supervised visits three times a week but he would have night terrors after seeing them.
Paula added: ‘Psychologically it was doing him more damage seeing them three times a week, but it was against their human rights not to permit it.
‘They actually harmed him twice. After one visit, a few weeks after he came out of hospital, the social worker who brought him back told me, “He’s been really unsettled. He hasn’t stopped crying.”
Paula and Mark officially adopted Tony – known to them as ‘Bear’ – in March 2016 and were determined to get justice for him
‘I lifted the blanket off the car seat and discovered he wasn’t strapped in – if they had knocked him, he would have fallen out – and the plaster cast on his leg had been pulled down over his foot.
‘I had to take him back to the hospital, have the cast removed and a new one put on.
‘On another occasion, after the plaster cast had been removed, the splint strapped around his leg to keep it straight had been snapped at the back of his knee, which is really hard to do.
‘There was nothing I could do. All I could do was inform the social workers and make notes in my diary. But the visits continued.’
Paula and Mark officially adopted Tony – known to them as ‘Bear’ – in March 2016 and were determined to get justice for him.
Paula and her husband Mark officially adopted Tony – known to them as ‘Bear – in March 2016 and were determined to get justice for him
Tony’s birth parents Tony Smith and Jody Simpson were never prosecuted on the grounds of insufficient evidence, and not knowing which parent caused the injuries.
But Paula and Mark lobbied the police, their police and crime commissioner and their MP, Tom Tugendhat – leading to Smith and Simpson being jailed for 10 years in February 2018.
Paula added: ‘I knew we had to do something. If they had sought medical help when he first had those fractures, he would have healed and subsequently been able to walk.’
Meanwhile, Tony’s doctors told Paula and Mark there was nothing more they could do for Tony’s legs and they would never recover.
She added: ‘Mark and I were advised to go ahead with an amputation, and it was the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make. He had his right leg amputated in May 2017 – the operation took five hours.
‘Five months later he had his right leg amputated, and within days we were discharged home. He didn’t once ask about his legs, instead he started telling people a shark ate it.
‘The Evelina gave him prosthetic legs but he didn’t like using them as they caused him too much pain.’
After the UK was placed into lockdown in March last year, Tony took a particular interest in the 100-year-old war veteran, Captain Sir Tom Moore, who was raising money for the NHS by walking laps in his garden.
Against significant adversity, Tony decided to defy expectations and do a sponsored walk in June last year. But at that stage, he had barely used his prosthetic legs.
Paula added: ‘Tony would watch Captain Tom when he was on the news and say, “He’s got a frame like me!”
‘That’s when I had the idea to set up a fundraiser for the Evelina hospital, to raise money and also get Tony to walk and use his legs.
‘We set a walking target of 10km and decided to start the challenge in June, so we could build up Tony’s distance day-by-day throughout the month.
‘The very first few days, it took an hour. It was so hard for him. By the end of the 30 days, he was speeding along so fast. We saw such a massive improvement in his walking – and it’s continued to this day.
‘We thought we’d raise £500 – then our community got behind us and it went national and global.
‘As the time went on, more and more people joined the walk with him. It was amazing to witness.’
The fundraiser came to the attention of the Duchess of Cambridge, who is a patron of Evelina London.
A letter from Kate, dated August 7, 2020, is now framed on Tony’s bedroom wall. The Duchess wrote: ‘I wanted to send you my congratulations following your amazing fundraising efforts last month for Evelina Children’s Hospital.
After success with Tony’s Law, Paula has called on the government to implement a child cruelty register
‘It was wonderful to hear how you were inspired by Captain Sir Tom Moore’s story to carry out your own walk. I am very impressed that you carried on even after reaching your target of 10km!
‘I know that your efforts have been hugely appreciated by Evelina, and we are all so proud of what you have achieved. I hope that you manage to have a very well-deserved rest before starting on your next adventure – whatever that may be! Catherine.’
‘It just turned up in the post,’ explains Paula, ‘He was obviously excited because it was something Royal.’
‘He knew she was Princess Kate and I told him, “She is the future Queen of England. You don’t know how lucky you are.” I was so proud.’
Paula and Mark have since set up the Tony Hudgell Foundation to raise money for the charities which have helped their son.
After Tony’s Law was passed, Paula and Tony met Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, and she said he was welcoming about the idea of having a register.
She said: ‘The fact he was surprised we didn’t have one speaks volumes – that’s already a step in the right direction.
‘Think about the children who die, and have no one to fight for them – or the children who are not adopted and don’t have anyone on their side. They need justice. Now those words are finally being put into action.
‘We need to stop these tragedies from happening for good.’
To find out more or donate to the Tony Hudgell Foundation, click here.