HER name and face have been on Britain’s television screens for a week as her family begged for help in finding missing schoolgirl Tia Sharp, 12.
Now the partner of the girl’s grandmother has been charged with killing her after her body was found in her grandmother’s house on a council estate in Croydon, south London.
Stuart Hazell, 37, was found hiding under a log on a common and will appear in court today.
Tia’s grandmother, Christine Sharp, 46, was also arrested on suspicion of murder and her neighbour, Paul Meehan, 39, was arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender. They have both been released on bail.
Meanwhile, Scotland Yard, which apparently botched the investigation by failing to find Tia’s body sooner despite three searches of her grandmother’s house, has apologised to Tia’s mother for the delays.
A spokesman said the searches included one that was meant to have been a full one last Sunday week, and an inspection by a sniffer dog on Wednesday, and that they should have been more thorough.
“We have apologised to Tia’s mother that our procedures did not lead to the discovery of the body on this search,” the spokesman said. He added that there would be a review of processes “to ensure such a failing is not repeated”.
The body was not found until Friday, when police decided a more intensive fourth sweep of the house was necessary.
Police now want to establish how long the body had been there.
Hazell had said he was the last person to see Tia before she was reported missing on Friday, August 3, which led to a hunt involving nearly 100 officers, who scoured woodland near the house and examined 800 hours of CCTV footage.
Tia was in Hazell’s care when she went missing and he told police she had left the house to buy a pair of thongs and had little money and no transport card or mobile phone.
Hazell had previously dated Tia’s mother, Natalie Sharp, 30.
Before his arrest, he told a television interviewer: “Did I do anything to Tia? No I bloody didn’t. I’d never think of that. I loved her to bits, she’s like my own daughter. She’s got a lovely home. I can’t work out what’s going on.
“She’s a happy-go-lucky golden angel, she’s perfect . . . Just come home, babe, come and eat your dinner.”
Hazell said people were “pointing the finger” at him because he had been the last person to see her but that a neighbour told police he saw Tia leave the house alone and had even been able to describe “the pattern on her top”.
Her grandmother had earlier told reporters: “My only message to Tia is that I love her. She is my life.”First published in The Age.