Tia Sharp, the missing schoolgirl who was found dead in her grandmother's loft on Friday, may have been smothered before her body was wrapped in a bed sheet and bin liner and hidden.
The details emerged as Stuart Hazell, the partner of Tia's grandmother Christine Sharp, appeared in a court via video link accused of murdering the 12-year-old, whose disappearance prompted a huge search by scores of officers and volunteers. Mr Hazell, 37, of New Addington, Surrey, remained at a south London police station for yesterday's hearing and was seen on screens at Camberwell Green magistrates' court. Dressed in a blue T-shirt with an illegible slogan on the front, he sat behind a table shuffling legal papers as a police officer stood behind him.
Mr Hazell is accused of killing Tia at some time between 2 August – the day before she was reported missing – and 11 August. He spoke only to confirm his name, age and address and to say he understood the charge against him during the three-minute hearing. He was told he will next appear, again via video link, at the Old Bailey tomorrow.
No other family members were at the court. Mr Hazell's partner, Christine Sharp, 46, was arrested on suspicion of murder but bailed until October. A neighbour, Paul Meehan, was also held on suspicion of assisting an offender and later bailed.
Tia's body was found after a week-long search focused on the house on The Lindens estate in New Addington, where she often stayed with her grandmother. Mr Hazell was arrested in Morden and charged with her murder early on Sunday. Police apologised to Tia's mother, Natalie Sharp, at the weekend after it emerged that the body was not found until a fourth search at the property. A dog team and a two-hour search at the small terraced house had both failed to uncover any sign of the girl.
A post-mortem examination started at the weekend and is expected to continue this week before her body is formally identified. DNA tests were also due to be carried out. On Sunday, Natalie Sharp, from Mitcham, and her former partner – Tia's father Steven Carter – added their own floral tributes to a growing pile of flowers and toys outside Christine Sharp's house.