The man suspected of murdering schoolgirl Lucy McHugh has been jailed for refusing to provide his Facebook password to police investigating her death.
Investigators had hoped to read through his private messages to see if he had sent any messages to the girl before her murder. But he refused to give up his password and has now been convicted.
Stephen Nicholson pleaded guilty to the charge under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), during an appearance through a video link at Southampton Crown Court on Friday morning.
Police have the power to compel people to give up the passwords to their devices or online accounts if they are required to investigate a crime, using powers originally intended as anti-terror measures. Similar powers have been used on people including the director of campaign group CAGE, after he refused to unlock his devices for police.
Nicholson, a family friend who was staying in Lucy’s home until shortly before her death, refused access to his Facebook to detectives investigating any private messages sent between himself and the 13-year-old.
Lucy, who lived in Mansel Road, Southampton, was found in woodland at Southampton Sports Centre on 26 July having been stabbed to death.
Judge Christopher Parker QC jailed Nicholson for 14 months.
"What you have done is obstructed the investigation, and a very serious investigation indeed. It has caused a very significant delay," Judge Parker said.
"It means that the task of police investigating the murder of Lucy McHugh is that much more difficult."
Nicholson was first arrested by Hampshire Police on suspicion of murder and sexual activity with a child.
He was bailed before being charged under Ripa.
A decision as to whether to charge him with further offences is expected on 27 October.
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