Community united by the search for missing 12-year-old

Paul Peachey witnesses the frantic efforts to find Tia Sharp, last seen six days ago

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The Independent Online

"Whatever people say about New Addington, it's a nice area," said Peter Wilson, landlord of the Randall Tavern. A leaflet appealing for help to find Tia Sharp, the 12-year-old girl who went missing from the estate last Friday, is pinned to the bar in front of him. "I've run pubs on this estate for 16 years. It's a close-knit place, and people have really come together."

All around the Lindens estate in south-east London, fliers are stuck in house windows, on "No Ball Games" signs and in shop windows. In nearby woodland, the black-and-white appeals have been left on tree stumps and stuck on hanging branches.

So far, the efforts have come to nothing – as has a police search involving 80 detectives and specialist search officers. The last confirmed sighting of the "lovely, bubbly" girl was by Stuart Hazell, 37, the partner of her grandmother Christine Sharp.

That was on Friday lunchtime, before she left their house to catch a bus and tram to nearby Croydon to buy some shoes. One other person has given police a statement saying they saw the girl leave the house at about noon on Friday. It was the first time she had gone missing.

Examination of some of the 800 hours of CCTV camera footage recovered from buses, local businesses and places further afield has turned up nothing. Yesterday, three young girls were lighting candles at the bus stop where Tia was supposed to have started her journey, and where chalked appeals on the pavement pleaded with her to come home.

In nearby woods, four dog handlers tramped through high ferns behind police tape during the search for the girl as a helicopter roared overhead. Officers have gone through bins and searched gardens and garages within 500m of the house where she was last seen.

Tia's biological father, Steven Carter, the former partner of Tia's mother Natalie, has been in the area since Saturday helping the search for his daughter. Relations with his former partner's family had been strained, but tensions had eased during the search for their daughter. "We're all working together to try to find her," said Mr Carter, who has a tattoo of his daughter's name on his right forearm.

Yesterday a single dog team went into her grandmother's house on the Lindens estate in New Addington, where members of the family, including Mr Hazell, had been staying during the police search. Mr Hazell, who has served time in prison over possession of a machete, left the house yesterday with police officers to give a witness statement. Scotland Yard confirmed he had not been arrested.

The area has experienced other problems over the past year and a Co-op store about a mile from where Tia went missing was attacked during last August's riots. Mr Wilson said he kept his pub open during the disturbances, and 100 people came in to defend the local shops from damage.

"They were saying, they are not going to mess with our pub. It's all down to community spirit," he said. "We've just now all got to hope that the young girl is alive."