New Addington window cleaner, Stuart Hazell, faces sentencing for murder by Mr Justice Nicol at the Old Bailey Tuesday morning May 14 at 10.30, but Steven Carter, the father of the schoolgirl he murdered, Tia Sharp, said today he should “serve his time and be hung.”
In dramatic scenes at the Central Criminal Court, Monday May 13, Hazell changed his plea from not guilty to guilty, leaving the relatives of his victim stunned and in tears after five days of distressing evidence in which they had to endure the detail of how Tia’s step-grandfather sexually assaulted and murdered her.
In impact statements the judge heard how members of her family have been left with post traumatic stress, struggling to carry on with their lives while dealing with the grief, and terrified for the safety of their remaining children.
Hazell’s QC, Lord Carlile said his client wanted to make it known that “Tia’s family have suffered enough and he did not want to put them through any further stages of this trial or this process.”
Speaking outside the court building, Tia’s father Steven Carter said: “I’m glad that Stuart Hazell changed his plea to guilty this morning. The four days of trial here were very hard to deal with, hearing the vile things Hazell did to Tia. Hazell will be sentenced tomorrow. In my opinion it will not be enough. He should serve his time and then be hung.”
“I do not see today’s events as justice for Tia, merely a legal conviction. I would now ask to be left alone so I can grieve and put my life back together,” he added.
Senior Investigating Officer DCI Nick Scola, of the Homicide and Serious Crime Command, said: “The conviction today of Stuart Hazell for the murder of 12-year-old Tia Sharp in August 2012 will, I hope, bring some closure for her family who have seen justice served. However, Hazell’s conviction will never bring Tia back and her family will have to live with her loss for the rest of their lives.
“Tia was murdered by a man who had gained the trust of Tia’s family and who, on that day, was tasked with looking after her whilst her grandmother was at work. Hazell abused that position of trust by planning an assault on Tia that ultimately led to her murder. The evidence was overwhelming and clearly Hazell realised he had no choice but to plead guilty. However, he put Tia’s family through a week of heart-breaking evidence in court and I wish for their sakes he had admitted his guilt sooner,” he said.
DCI Scola said: “Hazell is an extremely dangerous individual who poses a significant threat to young girls and it is only right that he should be imprisoned and removed from society so that he can no longer pose any risk.”
He added: “I would like to pay tribute to Tia’s family for showing such courage and stamina throughout this horrendous ordeal – from the time of the murder through to the conviction – and I truly hope they can move forward with their lives in the knowledge that Hazell will now pay for his crime.”
Tia was reported missing by her mother Natalie at about 10 pm August 3 last year. She had last been seen at her grandmother’s home where she often stayed. Hazell said she had told him she was going to the Whitgift Centre in Croydon town centre around noon that day to buy shoes. Her disappearance was totally out of character.
After the local police started a missing persons enquiry, members of the local community joined in the search and helped handout leaflets. A Facebook group called Help Find Tia was set up. CCTV was checked and detectives began to follow many lines of enquiry, including possible sightings. Tia attended Raynes Park High School, Merton.
At a press conference on August 6 2012 Tia’s friends and family appealed for her to come home and for anybody who had any information to come forward.
Two days later 80 officers were working on the case with 800 hours of CCTV footage collated from buses and trams. More than 300 calls had been made to the incident room, 60 purported sightings of Tia were being followed up and searches of open areas and properties were being carried out.
Hazell repeatedly denied having anything to do with Tia’s disappearance and even gave a television news interview proclaiming his innocence.
Seven days after her disappearance a further search of the House in the Lindens, New Addington was carried out when detectives believed that they could detect decomposition. They found her body wrapped in a sheet and black bin bags and pushed into the eves of the loft behind boxes.
There was an immediate alert for Stuart Hazell, the former partner of Tia’s grandmother Christine Bicknell, and the public were warned not to approach him. He was arrested at around 10.30 pm after being spotted in in Raynes Park.
Although Hazell was charged with murder 2 days later, the post-mortem could not find a formal cause of death.
After searching the property, detectives found a memory card hidden in a gap at the top of a door frame. It contained the image of a girl on Tia’s bed that pathologists believe was taken after death. There was also evidence of Hazell’s sexual interest in young girls.
The CCTV footage showed Tia in Hazell’s company on the afternoon before her disappearance at East Croydon rail station, the Co-Op in the Forestdale Centre where they did shopping and on the bus back to the house. Tia was never seen alive again.
Hazell claimed Tia had fallen down the stairs and broken her neck, that he panicked and hid her in the loft.
In a letter to his father from Belmarsh prison he wrote: ““I think about taking my own life because if I don’t, someone will, that is a definite,” and added “God I hate myself.”
Hazell signed off the letter saying “I’m sorry, truely, truly sorry,” (sic) with three crosses and a sad smiley face.
Alison Saunders, Chief Crown Prosecutor for London, said: “This was an appalling and unthinkable crime, made worse by Hazell’s efforts to hide Tia’s body and disrupt the police investigation. As an adult and trusted family member, he had responsibility for ensuring Tia’s safety. Instead, he abused and murdered her.”
Controversy over the police failure to find Tia’s body despite searching the house and loft several times
Commander Neil Basu said borough officers as well as specialist teams searched her grandmother’s address at The Lindens in New Addington where she had reportedly last been seen: “Local officers visited the address on the night she was reported missing. As is routine in missing person cases, this was an initial visit to assess the situation and briefly examine the property. It was not intended or considered to be a full search of the property.”
He said “On the evening of Saturday 4 August two Police Sergeants and two PCs from the local borough checked the rooms, loft space, outbuildings and two vehicles at the address as part of the missing person investigation. The officers involved were not specialist search officers.”
He explained “Another search was held in the early hours of Sunday 5 August. This involved a team of specially trained officers, consisting of one Police Sergeant and five PCs. They were briefed to look for evidence that could help find the 12-year-old. The search strategy included checking rooms that Tia had access to within the address. The loft was checked but a systematic search was not carried out.
He added: “Officers visited the property for a fourth time on Wednesday 8 August. A search dog attended to sniff areas that hadn’t been searched before and were less accessible, such as under floorboards and bath panels. The dog did not go into the loft – it had been searched before and was not boarded out (and therefore not accessible by the dog).
The commander said: “Due to the length of time Tia had now been missing and an odour detected inside the property, a decision was made to conduct an intrusive search of the property on Friday 10 August. It was then that her body was found, well-concealed in the loft.
The Met Police immediately launched a review of the searches that had taken place and in particular the loft search.
Commander Basu said: “This review concluded that human error around how the search was both conducted and supervised was primarily to blame for Tia’s body not being found rather than broader organisational failings, although the inexperience of the PC who searched the loft was also a contributing factor.”
He said the PC who searched the loft and a supervising Sergeant “are devastated by their failure to find Tia and this case has deeply affected all those involved. The PC voluntarily decided to remove himself from search duties.”
The Met has apologised to Tia’s family saying it “deeply regrets that this error caused additional distress to Tia’s family by prolonging the situation when it could have been brought to an earlier conclusion.”
Reporting on this case jointly by Clare Boylan and Merissa Henry