Six days after Tia Sharp had disappeared, Stuart Hazell sat before a television camera in his home and shook his head in incredulity at suggestions that he had developed an unhealthy interest in the 12-year-old he referred to as “a golden angel”.
As the remains of the schoolgirl he claimed to have doted upon decomposed in his attic after a grim assault which he followed by photographing her corpse for his apparent sexual gratification, Hazell said: “I’d never think of that. I loved her to bits. She’s like my own daughter for God’s sake.”
Within 24 hours, the remains of Tia had finally been discovered in the loft space of 20 The Lindens after three previous police searches failed to detect her body. But her killer continued his campaign of finger-pointing deceit for many more months, telling a prison officer that he believed his Somali neighbours were the “bacons” - slang for sex offenders.
The grotesque edifice of Hazell’s lies, which included his searches of incest websites while the hunt for Tia continued, finally collapsed yesterday morning as he leaned forward in a dock at the Old Bailey and answered “guilty” to the charge of Tia’s murder. It was the end of a search for answers which Tia’s mother, Natalie, said had robbed her of “my trust in everyone”.
Hazell, 37, with convictions for offences from drug dealing to racially-aggravated assault, was a practised, instinctive liar who believed he could dissemble his way out of any situation. As his own lawyer, Lord Carlile QC, put it, the alcoholic has an “extraordinary capacity for living through lies that he has made up”.
During his trial it emerged that he last year sought time off work as a sub-contractor for a window cleaning firm by telling his employer that his father, Keith, had died, breaking down in tears as he re-lived in vivid detail the experience of the imaginary heart attack suffered by his parent.
In a statement read to jurors, Adrian Van Aalst, owner of AVA Windows, said: “If this was not true and his father is not dead, I would say he is a fantastic liar.”
A letter sent by Hazell from the high-security prison HMP Belmarsh proved that his father remains alive. Hazell, who repeatedly expressed concern that he was being misrepresented in media reports of Tia’s murder, wrote: “What happened I will explain in time but put it this way, it was an accident and I panicked. Stupid I know but for my stupidity I’m looking at 15 to 18 years.”
Hazell will return to the Old Bailey this morning to hear whether a judge has accepted the request of prosecutors that he serve a minimum of 30 years in prison for a killing which the Crown insisted was underpinned by a sexual interest in young girls likely to have transferred from browsing pornographic websites to a fatal assault on Tia carried out in the early hours of 3 August last year.
Lord Carlile said that the window cleaner, who inveigled his way into the Sharp family after first establishing a brief relationship with Tia’s mother and then moving in with her maternal grandmother, was the product of an abusive upbringing but denied the killing had a sexual or sadistic motivation.
The son of a prostitute, Hazell’s first conviction came at the age of 14 and he was taken into care at a young age while his father was in prison. He claims to have been raped while living in a homeless hostel at the age of 16.
While police spent a week piecing together the inconsistencies in Hazell’s story prior to ordering a full search of his home in New Addington, south London, when a smell in the house became noticeable, the killer continued his pretence, donning a “Find Tia” t-shirt for the cameras.
Following his arrest he told a prison officer that he was “not like Ian Huntley”, a reference to the Soham murderer who also appeared on television claiming to know nothing of the fate of his victims and insisted his crimes were devoid of sexual intent.
It was yet another assertion by Hazell which Tia’s parents will consider a lie. Her mother said: “I gave the ultimate trust to Stuart. I have so much I want to ask him. Sometimes I feel pity, but I want to hurt him, but I could never manage to hurt him like he hurt me.”