Search for missing schoolgirl Tia Sharp runs into fifth day

 

Police and worried community members are continuing to search for missing schoolgirl Tia Sharp five days after she vanished without a trace.

Teams of officers spent yesterday combing woodland close to where the 12-year-old was last seen while scores of local volunteers mounted their own hunt for the youngster, who disappeared after leaving grandmother Christine Sharp's home in New Addington, south-east London, at around midday on Friday.

The searches went on after Tia's distraught family made an emotional plea for her safe return.

Her stepfather David Niles said relatives were "in bits" and begged: "Just find my little girl."

The 29-year-old, who wore a Find Tia campaign T-shirt, said: "How would you feel if it was your daughter? I haven't slept in four days. Natalie (Tia's mother) is in bits.

"The whole country has helped us and is supporting us. The police have done everything."

Tia's mother said she feared her daughter might have been taken.

"We feel terrible," she told reporters.

"We think she's been taken but we just don't know. There's no CCTV."

Scotland Yard said the search for the youngster was "very much ongoing", while The Sun newspaper has offered a £25,000 reward for information that leads to police finding Tia.

Officers searched a local wood, Birchwood, less than a mile from Tia's grandmother's house in The Lindens yesterday afternoon.

Around 100 local people also gathered at Croydon Rugby Club and spent the evening searching for Tia without success. Some are expected to continue the hunt this morning.

Club secretary Sue Randall said: "Everybody wants to help, we're just pulling together to try and find her."

It is believed the last person to see Tia was Mrs Sharp's partner, Stuart Hazell.

But there seems to be confusion over whether he walked her to a local tram stop or the schoolgirl left her grandmother's house alone after saying she was going to the Whitgift Centre in Croydon town centre.

Mr Niles said: "The last time I saw her was on Thursday morning before going to work (at the family home in Mitcham).

"She had a friend stay over. She was good as gold.

"I know I am not her real dad, but I have been there since day dot. I have fed her and bathed her. I just want her home."

Mrs Sharp, speaking from her terraced home, said she hoped an image of her granddaughter taken outside the nearby Co-op on Thursday would jog people's memories and bring forward new information.

She also thanked the community for supporting the family but declined to speak at length.

Outside the house a solitary candle burned in a glass holder with a plastic bottle covering it.

Police have been scouring hours of CCTV footage but said they had not found any trace of the schoolgirl, who has never gone missing before.

Hundreds of "missing" posters have been distributed around New Addington and Tia's face looks out from most local shops and noticeboards.

At a bus stop close to her grandmother's house in The Lindens, well-wishers left dozens of burning candles and tealights with hand-written signs asking for Tia to be brought home.

PA

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