To shouts of “beast” from the public gallery and sobs from the family of his victim, Stuart Hazell was today jailed for a minimum of 38 years at the Old Bailey after he admitted the murder of Tia Sharp.
A day after the 37-year-old window cleaner changed his plea in his trial for killing the 12-year-old he considered his granddaughter, he was told by a judge that he had breached the trust placed in him to look after Tia “in the most grievous way possible”.
But Mr Justice Nicol stopped short of imposing a whole life tariff on Hazell, which would have meant he joined around 30 murderers in Britain who must die in prison, because the judge said he could not be sure that Tia’s murder was sexually motivated and pre-meditated.
During the trial it emerged that Tia’s body, which was missed by police during three searches of the loft of Hazell’s home, was so badly decomposed that a cause of death could not be established and evidence of sexual assault could not be ascertained.
Members of the schoolgirl’s family leaving the central London court today shouted “nowhere near long enough” in reference to the sentence.
Hazell, a convicted drug dealer who had spent much of his childhood in care and claimed he had suffered sexual abuse, abruptly changed his plea on the fifth day of his trial, which had heard harrowing evidence, including details of a picture taken of Tia’s apparent corpse by the killer for his sexual gratification.
The judge said he was certain that Hazell, who put on a grotesque display of concern for seven days last August as police searched for Tia while her corpse remained concealed in his home in south London, had taken a sexual interest in the schoolgirl and had committed a sexual assault.
It emerged that the alcoholic, who took pictures of Tia while she slept and images from his attack which he hid in his house, had searched the internet for pornographic material using terms including “violent forced rape”, “little girls in glasses” and “incest”.
Mr Justice Nicol said: “There is no doubt that you had developed a sexual interest in Tia. The records of your internet searching on your mobile phone make abundantly clear that you were looking out for pornographic pictures of pre-teen girls.”
The judge said Hazell’s sentence included an additional eight years’ imprisonment for aggravating features to his crime, including Tia’s age and the abuse of the trust of her mother, Natalie, who had allowed the schoolgirl to frequently stay with the window cleaner and his partner, Christine Bicknell, who is Tia’s grandmother.
Mr Justice Nicol said: “By first sexually assaulting and then killing Tia you betrayed that trust in the most grievous way possible. And that breach of trust reverberates still. Tia’s mother has spoken of how she now finds it hard to trust other people in many other ways.”
Addressing Hazell, the judge added: “[Tia] was a sparky girl who was full of life but you took that life from her. All that lay ahead of her - a career, loves and family of her own - will now never be. And the loss of her has been devastating for her mother, her father and all her relatives and friends.
“The tragedy of their loss and her death is because of your act in murdering Tia Sharp. You are responsible.”
The court heard that Hazell, who will become eligible for parole when he is 75, was only being given “the most modest credit” for changing his plea before he was due to give evidence, noting that Tia’s family had had to endure days of harrowing evidence about the murder.
Detective Chief Inspector Nick Scola, the officer who led the investigation, said the sentence imposed on Hazell was “satisfying” for police and Tia’s family. Scotland Yard has previously apologised to relatives for the failure to find the schoolgirl’s body sooner.
He said: “Hazell will have a very long time in prison to think about what he has done.”