Stuart Hazell will be sentenced for the murder of schoolgirl Tia Sharp today after dramatically changing his plea in court and admitting to killing the 12-year-old.
The partner of Tia’s grandmother, Hazell had previously claimed that he had hidden her body in panic after she died in an accident in the couple’s south London home – where her body was found in the attic by police who suspicions were aroused by the smell of her decomposing remains.
In dramatic scenes on the morning of the fifth day of his trial at the Old Bailey, however, the 37-year-old announced that he admitted the murder after all, leading Tia’s relatives to break down in tears.
Hazell’s announcement came after his barrister, Lord Carlile QC, asked for the charges to be read again to his client. Hazell then hesitated before admitting to the murder, committed in August last year.
Lord Carlile said his client believed “Tia’s family have suffered enough and he did not want to put them through any further stages of this trial or this process”. Hazell was said by his lawyer to now expect to spend “decades” in prison for killing the 12-year-old. But speaking outside the Old Bailey, Tia’s father Steven Carter said he thought Hazell should serve whatever sentence is handed down by the judge later today “and then be hung”.
Police said that Hazell had little choice but to plead guilty, given the strength of the evidence against him. During the trial, jurors were told how Hazell had secretly filmed Tia while she was asleep using his mobile phone, and had searched the internet for child pornography using terms including “violent forced rape” and “little girls in glasses”.
Her blood was found on a sex toy that was in the house, and on Hazell’s belt, and his semen was found on bed clothes in the room where she slept.
During a sentencing hearing yesterday afternoon, Tia’s mother, Natalie Sharp, said in a victim impact statement read out in court that she and her family had placed the “ultimate trust” in Hazell, which he had betrayed.
“Since Tia was taken, I have lost my trust in everyone,” she said. “It is too hard for me to believe that she is really gone. I try to think of her being on a sleepover at her friend’s house.”
She added: “When I was told Tia had gone missing I always believed that she would come back. At the very worst I thought I’d have to face the fact that someone had touched her and scared her and hurt her. I never really considered that she would be dead. How could I? Worse still was the false hope from the hoaxer who said they had her. I thought she was coming back.
“Jack, my eldest son who is three, asked me just this week if Tia was coming home from school soon. I’ve had to tell him the truth. It made him really cry. I told him that Tia is a star in the sky and now when we go up to say goodnight, we look out of the bedroom window and speak to the star, the one that was bought in Tia’s name.”
In a mitigating statement to the court, Lord Carlile accepted the severity of his client’s crimes and said he expected a long jail sentence.
But he argued that his client neither planned Tia’s murder, nor displayed any longstanding tendency towards sexual crimes against children – adding that he “probably did” love Tia. This, he said, should mean that the starting point for a minimum sentence should be 30 years, rather than a whole life tariff.