Police have charged Stuart Hazell with the murder of missing schoolgirl Tia Sharp, as they admitted that ‘human error’ delayed the discovery of her body.
Hazell, 37, who is Tia’s grandmother’s partner, was arrested on Friday August 10 hours after police found the body of Tia at her grandmothers in The Lindens, New Addington. He will appear before magistrates tomorrow.
Tia’s grandmother, Christine Sharp, 47, and her neighbour, Paul Meehan, 39, were also arrested on Friday. Both were released on bail last night.
Police have faced criticism for the delay in discovering the body and apologised to the family. The house was the last place Tia was seen and police searched the property four times before finding the body during a forensic search on Friday, a week after she went missing.
Yesterday Commander Neil Basu said in a statement: “It is now clear that human error delayed the discovery of the body within the house. We have apologised to Tia’s mother that our procedures did not lead to the discovery of the body on this search.”
He added: ”Four scene examinations were conducted of the property. The first followed immediately from the missing person report that was received on Friday 3 August. An initial visit was made to assess the situation and examine the property. This visit was not regarded or viewed as a full search of the property. The second visit was a full search of the property with the consent of the occupiers. This was conducted on 5 August over a period of two hours.
“All parts of the premises were searched including the location where a body was discovered, five days later, on Friday 10 August. An early review has been conducted and it is now clear that human error delayed the discovery of the body within the house.”
The body found at the address has not yet been formally identified. The murder charge against Hazell does, however, name Tia Sharp as the victim.
Search teams spent yesterday morning continuing to sift through bins in the neighbourhood looking for clues. Police from Manchester, who had been stationed in London to cover the Olympics, were guarding the large cordon.
The mood on the estate has been sombre since the discovery of the body and the subsequent arrests. ‘Missing’ posters showing a smiling Tia remain on lamp posts in the area.
A tribute at the bus stop near to her home had been cleared away today and candles moved to a large makeshift memorial at the end of the path, next to the house in which she was found. Friends and local people have placed flowers and soft toys at the memorial site and a steady stream of mourners continue to visit.
Each card echoes the same sentiment, one read: “RIP Tia, Sleep well angel.”
Neighbours have expressed shock and anger at what had happened. Garret, a 24-year-old who lives in the block across the road from Christine Sharp’s home in The Lindens, said: “I think it’s disgusting – for it to happen in your area. You see it on TV and hear these things but for it to happen, literally next door – it’s sad.”
Another neighbour, Francesca, a 19-year-old student who also lives on the estate, had been helping with the search for Tia. “I was [helping with the search], but I was in Mitcham, looking with my boyfriend,” she said. “It’s not often you see your house on the news, you know. Honestly, I’m disgusted. It’s weird seeing it outside your doorstep. It’s horrible.”
A large search took place across south London during the week, with residents and neighbours distributing posters and fliers and helping police to scour woodlands near to where Tia was last reported to have been seen.
Tia Sharp: Timeline
August 2: Tia visits the Co-op store in New Addington, Croydon around 4.15pm and is captured on CCTV
August 3: Tia was said to have slept late and left her Grandmother’s house in The Lindens, New Addington around midday. The family raise the alarm around 6pm.
August 4: Police focus their efforts on CCTV as the search for Tia gets under way in earnest. Family and friends take to social media to raise the profile of their search.
August 5: Celebrities begin to join the campaign to search for Tia. Local residents and friends set up Facebook groups, print posters and fliers and take to the streets to look for signs of the missing girl. Tia’s family make a public plea for information as no confirmed sightings of her on CCTV footage after her disappearance are forthcoming.
August 6: Police release CCTV footage of Tia taken on August 2 and encourage the public to come forward with sightings of Tia.
August 7: The Sun newspaper offers a reward for information that leads to Tia being found. The police search continues, with officers scouring local woodland area, Birch Wood.
August 8: After speaking with the family for around an hour police return with a dog and search the home where Tia was last seen before she went missing.
August 9: Police search bins around Christine Sharp’s home as their search continues. A witness comes forward and says he saw Tia leaving Christine Sharp’s home around midday.
August 10: Police search Sharp’s home again and leave with evidence in bags, returning with a sniffer dog. Christine Sharp leaves with police to give further evidence and police undertake a full forensic search of the property, leading to the discovery of a body.
August 11: Police continue their search of the property at The Lindens and the surrounding area. Locals set up a tribute to Tia near her grandmother’s home as they mourn the girl. A post mortem begins. Police site ‘human error’ as the reason for the delay in finding Tia’s body despite multiple searches and they apologise to her mother.
August 12: Stuart Hazell is charged with Tia’s murder, Christine Sharp and her neighbour are bailed.