The Murder of Tia Sharp

Crime Files

“She was the colour of all colours.”Natalie Sharp, on her daughter, Tia

He’s the evil of the evilest

Natalie on her daughter’s murderer

Tia Sharp is born on 30 June 2000 in Croydon, South London to her teenage mum, Natalie:

“She was tiny. Holding her was like a Christmas present, do you know, when you get what you actually asked (Father Christmas) for.”Natalie Sharp

Present at her birth is Natalie’s mother, Christine Bicknell.“I saw Tia born...that was untold love.”

Tia is Christine’s first grandchild.

Christine, Natalie and Tia will become more like friends than family to each other.

In 2002, Christine meets Stuart Hazell:“...his mother was a prostitute, his dad was in prison...therefore he went into care at a young age...”Dr. Keri Nixon, Forensic Psychologist

That year, Hazell is also convicted for a racially aggravated common assault.And it is the year he first sees Tia.She is two.She will come to call Hazell ‘Granddad.’

GRANDADStuart has a low IQ and used to truant from school: Something often seen with violent offenders:

“He claims that he was raped at the age of 16.  And when somebody has suffered trauma in childhood: psychological trauma, physical trauma, that can lead to them using violence as the first response to any challenge that they have.”Dr Keri Nixon

Hazell’s early exposure to sex, through the work of his mother, means there’s a risk of him becoming a serious sexual offender. His psychiatric history is one of depression, alcoholism, self-harm and suicide attempts. But his criminal history doesn’t indicate a possible sexual predator.In 2003 he is sent to prison for 34 months for supplying cocaine.

Tia’s grandmother, Christine, met Hazel, ten years her junior, when she was a barmaid in a pub in Raynes Park, South West London.In 2007, they become a couple. Hazell then moves into her home in New Addington, South London. It is an area blighted by drugs and welfare dependency.

Hazell has issues with drugs and alcohol but doesn’t display aggressive tendencies, at least not to Christine and her family.In reality, his drug and drink use is heavy, dangerously so.In 2010 he’s convicted of carrying a machete.  Christine stands by him and claims she never saw his violent side in the home.

The truth is that Hazell has 30 previous convictions and has been to prison three times:

“We see drug offences, cocaine offences, dealing cocaine.  We see criminal damage, we see burglary, we see theft and we also see violence.  There was racially motivated violence and GBH in his background...We also see chronic substance abuse...combined with alcohol abuse...it separates offenders who can stop themselves...in certain things, and those who will act very impulsively.”Dr. Keri Nixon, Forensic Psychologist

And Hazell now sets his sick sights on his step-granddaughter.

“A FIRECRACKER”

Tia is growing up to be a small, only 4ft 5in, but very happy and confident girl;“...she was somebody who had very strong opinions, she would air her feelings and she wasn’t afraid of letting people know that she was in the room...a firecracker.”Emma Kenny, Psychologist

Tia goes to Secondary School:“She weren’t shy; she went out, she made friends.”Natalie Sharp

Tia combines a winning personality with a successful school record in the classroom. But that’s only when she attends school. Her non-attendance causes concern.

‘DYSFUNCTIONAL’

In 2008, Social Services raises concerns over Natalie and her partner’s cannabis use. (Tia by now has two younger brothers). A report describes the family as ‘dysfunctional’. And it was later judged that there was ‘Inappropriate tolerance’ of cannabis use in her environment. Police records show Tia was present during one of three searches of her house in which drugs were found.There is, however, no evidence of neglect or abuse towards Tia.

Stuart Hazell is by now an integral part of the family. He’s especially close with Tia.“He was good with kids, he was good with the house. I don’t know, at some point he was everything that she needed.”Natalie SharpTia idolises Stuart and looks forward to staying the night round his, even when Christine’s away.Stuart secretly fantasises about sexually abusing his step-granddaughter.Tia will soon be twelve.

Aftermath

“I hate him. To rot in hell, right where I am...Every breath I take is like a breath of hell.   There ain’t no release, there’s no relent, there’s nothing.” Natalie SharpHazell had done his worse to destroy Tia’s family. But her mother Natalie is also a mother of two little boys and ‘she lives for them.’Her rage, her revenge, however, may never die:“He doesn’t even deserve to be in jail, he doesn’t deserve to die. He deserves to suffer. But he’ll never suffer will he? Not like I need him to.”

The leap Hazell made from petty criminal - none of his many convictions involved sexual or serious violence - to child sex murderer, concern many.Coincidentally, on the day Hazell was sentenced, The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre released it annual report. In it, they warned that the sheer volume of child abuse images and the growth of high-speed internet connections had increased the threat to children.In June 2013, Croydon council started demolition of the house where Tia’s body was found.In August 2013 the neighbour who was said to have seen Tia – after she was dead – was sentenced to five months for wasting police time.In November 2013, leading search engine companies such as Google and Microsoft finally gave in to huge public, press and political pressure. They agreed measures to make it harder to find child abuse images online. The tragedy of Tia Sharp was often cited in the campaign to force the change. Because Tia’s killer Stuart Hazell was sentenced to life imprisonment, he has no guarantee that he will be released after he’s served his minimum of 38 years. That will be up to the Parole Board.  

The Crime

“(Hazell) convinced himself that Tia loved him.” Nick Scola, Detective Chief InspectorHazell’s now obsessed enough to watch child pornography, violent child pornography: “He was looking at illegal underage incest pictures, daddy and daughter incest pictures. He is getting off on the voyeurism, but at the same time it’s not going to be enough.” Emma Kenny, PsychologistTia is entering puberty. For Hazell, this means she’s becoming sexually available. He starts secretly filming her. He covertly captures her doing everything from moisturising to sleeping. He films his shadow standing over her unconscious body in bed. Police believe he removes the door in the bathroom and tampers with a light fitting in Tia’s bedroom to create spy holes:“...voyeurism is something that we see in violent sexual offenders. Once offenders go to the next level, they don’t go back.” Dr Keri Nixon, Forensic PsychologistJUNE 2012Tia’s twelfth birthday is spent at Chessington. She goes with her mum and grandma and she has the choice of one friend to go with them. She picks Hazell. Hazell is by now viewing violent pornography on his mobile phone. His search terms include ‘schoolgirl rape’ and ‘incest sex’:“Fantasies are really important in understanding what leads to murder.” Dr. Keri NixonSome of Hazell’s online searches have the key word ‘glasses’ in them. Tia wears glasses.2 AUGUST 2012 The country is in full Olympics mode. Tia texts her grandma and Hazell, asking if she could stay the night with them. Hazell texts Natalie back saying he doesn’t mind if Tia comes: But adds that Christine won’t be there. So Natalie asks Tia if she still wants to go? Tia replies, “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.”“I wished I hadn’t have read the text message. I wished I hadn’t have read it out to her. I wished I’d told her no, she wasn’t staying there.” Natalie SharpHazell meets her from the tram. A CCTV captures the last images of Tia alive. Hazell and Tia are shopping.  That night, Christine phones Hazell. He says they’re playing computer games. Christine hears Tia laughing in the background. Sometime later, stoned and drunk, Hazell makes sexual advances to Tia. Tia says she’ll tell her mum. Rather than feel shame, he’s instead filled with sadistic, sexual lust.It is not known at what point he kills Tia, or even how he kills her. It is suspected that he suffocates Tia. What is certain is that he uses a vibrator on her. Tia’s blood is later found on it. Hazell strips her naked. He arranges her dead body into a ‘sexually posed position.’ It’s then alleged he uses his mobile phone camera to take a photo of her from behind:“After murdering a girl that he has brought up as his own granddaughter...he totally dehumanises and humiliates the body, using it for his pleasure with absolutely no moral care, no emotional feelings towards somebody that, from two years of age, he has held as his own. That demonstrates just how dark, detached and sinister his personality is. This is a man who is capable of anything.” Emma Kenny, PsychologistHe saws her body up in a bathtub.He places the pieces of her body into black sacks. “Tia’s body was taped up, almost cocooned, in the black bed sheet and the black plastic.” Nick Scola, Detective Chief InspectorHazell places Tia’s dismembered remains in between the rafters where the loft meets the roof. He carefully wraps Tia’s clothes and her broken glasses in small black bags and places them next to her. He covers it all in general debris:

“For someone who wasn’t intelligent, Hazell had done a remarkable job in hiding the evidence of his crime.” Nick Scola, Det Ch InspThe one thing that Hazell hadn’t calculated was the impact his one moment of sickness would have on the family that had taken him. “I think he’s worse than Ian Huntley, for the simple fact is he done it to his own.” Christine Bicknell  

The Investigation

On Friday, 3 August 2012, Tia’s grandma, Christine, returns home from work. Her boyfriend Hazell is sprawled on the sofa watching television. He tells her that Tia’s gone to Croydon to buy some flip-flops. When Tia doesn’t return home at 6pm that night, Christine calls her mother, Natalie. They both search for Tia. Natalie will later blame herself for not calling the police earlier. But by then, it’s already too late. Their little girl’s murderer accompanies them to the police station. Hazell tells police he last saw Tia at around midday before she left for Croydon. A phone call from a neighbour seems to corroborate Hazell’s story – so instead of a possible murder inquiry, it remains far longer a missing persons investigation.The police search Hazell and Christine’s flat as part of their missing person’s investigation. Tia’s body is not found:“A simple human error, from an officer who was inexperienced and perhaps not properly trained for that role, had led to the body not being found. Knowing that the house had been searched without any result, it clearly helps you shape your investigative strategy. You look for lines of enquiry that points away from the house.” Nick Scola, Detective Chief Inspector“I found it physically hard to believe that Tia had gone missing and not one person saw her...(it’s) such an entwined estate. It was just like she walked out the door and fell down a hole.” Natalie SharpAs the local story of a little missing girl goes national, Hazell leads the search wearing a T-shirt with her photo on it. At one point, he looks directly into the camera and says: “Tia, come home babe.”The police search his house again: This time, with dogs. Christine has to excuse a bad smell in the house, blaming her cat. Still no body is found. The police search through 800 hours of CCTV footage. They exhaustively examine the 55 sightings reported by members of the public. But after Hazell – and the sighting by the neighbour - the trail goes cold. Feeling like he’s the main suspect, Hazell gives an interview to ITV news stating his innocence. He consoles and supports Christine: “When I collapsed, he held me. He was there constantly, everywhere I went.” Christine BicknellWhen the couple went home, however, they were sitting just 12 feet below the decomposing body of Tia. And when she’s not there, Hazell returns to his online viewing of indecent pornography.But with police searches inside the house, and the media permanently outside, and Tia’s body decomposing upstairs, Hazell is trapped. He needs to move her body. On 10 August, early Friday morning, Hazell wakes early and leaves the house. “I got up and the smell was really intense. Once again, I was looking and I just couldn’t find it, and I was pulling everything out, but I just could not find the smell. And then, when the police turned up, that’s when they just said to me, can we leave the house?” Christine BicknellOn 10 August, a week after she’d been reported missing, Metropolitan Police find the body of missing 12 year old, Tia Sharp. She had all along been in the loft of her grandmother’s house, in New Addington, South London.  The hot weather has accelerated decomposition. Dental records are needed to confirm it is Tia. And the decomposition means it now will never be possible to identify how she was killed.

The Arrest

Police interviewer: “So what can you tell me about the murder of Tia Sharp, Stuart?”Stuart Hazell:  “Can I have a couple of minutes with my solicitor please?”Hazell’s early morning exit on 10 August was, in fact, a pathetic attempt to escape the inevitable. He’s caught on CCTV buying vodka in a shop in Cannon Hill Lane, South London. He cries to a little girl in the shop. The little girl calls her father who calls the police.That evening, at 8:25pm, they arrest the man Tia called ‘Granddad’. The public surround the police van into which he’s placed. They want instant revenge. They are not alone:“I prayed that one of them got their hands on him before the police did.” Natalie SharpInstead, the police arrest Natalie’s mother, suspecting Christine must have been involved; “They arrested me that Friday night - five to twelve - I was released on bail at, I think it was about six, seven o’clock the Saturday evening, but I wasn’t allowed nowhere near Natalie or my grandchildren.” Christine BicknellWith her mother in prison, Natalie watches on television as her daughter’s body is removed from her house: “They wheeled her out. And it didn’t even look like a body, do you know, it wasn’t big enough for her... ...They shouldn’t have removed her, not with all them strangers and all them cameras and...I should have been with her.”It’s decided that Natalie will not be allowed to see the badly decomposed remains of her daughter. Stuart Hazell now tries to explain how Tia died: “...his account evolved into one of where they had been playing together, Tia had fallen down the stairs, but seemed OK, so he had thought nothing more of it. He had then passed out through drink, as his account, and when he’d woken up he found Tia dead on the floor. He said he felt so guilty that he hadn’t done more for Tia the night before when she’d fallen over, and he couldn’t face telling the grandmother that her only granddaughter was dead, that he hid her body in the loft.” Nick Scola, Detective Chief InspectorBut during one of the searches of the property, police find two memory cards. One has been particularly well hidden in a doorframe.“The last shot on the memory card had been deleted, but we recovered it, and that was the incredibly disturbing image that we believe was taken of Tia, in a sexually posed position, after she was dead...This image depicted a naked female, on all fours, with the photograph being taken from behind her.” Nick Scola, Det Ch Insp“I expect that he would have kept that as a trophy. He would have continued to get sexual pleasure from that. This was his way of prolonging the enjoyment.” Dr. Keri Nixon, Forensic PsychologistOther recovered images are of Hazell himself. He’s posed for the camera, mimicking the sleeping positions of Tia. In others, he’d perform and gyrate. And insert things into his anus.Thankfully, Christine is cleared of having any involvement and is released.But Stuart Hazell is still saying he’s innocent.   

The Trial

Stuart Hazell’s trial for the murder of the girl who called him ‘granddad’ is set for 7 May 2013 at the Old Bailey in London. Hazell, now 37, protests his innocence. Many of his family and friends stick by him as most of the country turns against him. Hazell writes to his dad. He lies to him as well saying the death was accidental. But his main concern is that his father doesn’t think his son is a ‘nonce’: “...this is something that we see again and again in sex offenders. They will admit to the violent act, but they won’t admit to the sexual act.” Dr. Keri Nixon, Forensic PsychologistBut the emotionless man that stands in court starts to make even those closest to him doubt his innocence:“It wasn’t the person that I thought I’d known for ten years, the nice person that wouldn’t hurt anybody. That person standing in the dock was cold, horrible, black, dark, and stood there like he had done nothing wrong. Didn’t even look at me...He was just empty” Natalie Sharp, Tia’s motherNatalie is in court when the sexually posed photo of a girl, allegedly her dead daughter, is displayed:“None of them strangers needed to see, they didn’t need to hear that...I think...of that image...the last thing...every night before I go to sleep.”And then, after four gruelling days during which Tia’s family have been subjected to graphic and gruelling details that no one should have to hear about their loved one, Hazell changes his plea. He accepts his guilt. Some suspect that even this change of heart was from the basest of motives: “...he had already put (the family) through all the medical and forensic evidence. I believe he changed his plea because he was a coward. It was the stage of the trial where he would have to go to the witness stand and give his account of what happened and, more importantly, be cross examined. He never had the courage to stand up and face those questions.” Nick Scola, Det Ch InspAfter Hazell changed his plea, his own defence counsel described their client thus:“This is a man who has an extraordinary capacity for living through lies.”“BEAST”When sentencing Hazell the Judge stated Hazell had betrayed the trust of Tia’s family in the “most grievous way possible.” Hazell ‘trembled’ as the judge told him: “She was a sparky girl who was full of life. You took that life from her...All that lay ahead of her – a career, loves and family of her own – will now never be.”Hazell is sentenced to a 38-year minimum prison sentence. He avoids a whole-life sentence because it wasn’t definite that the murder was sexually motivated; “Shame and fear of what might happen if Tia talked are just two of the alternative possible motives behind her killing.”One relative cries ‘beast’ as Hazell is led down to the cells.