Detectives investigating the murder of Southampton schoolgirl Lucy McHugh have made fresh searches this week next to a children’s pleasure park.
Hampshire Constabulary confirmed on Friday that officers had searched locations across the city as part of a new line of enquiry.
Fred Salter, the owner of Southampton Pleasure Park, said around 100 officers had begun probing parkland and trees next to his business on Tuesday.
Officers returned to a site close to where Lucy’s body was found, near to Southampton Sports Centre, in July. The schoolgirl, 13, had been stabbed to death.
“I was there the other day – there was 100 police on the boating lake and round the back of the golf course,” Mr Salter said. “They have been there for a few days.”
The detectives who conducted the searches were not wearing forensic gear, Mr Salter reported, but had spent a significant amount of time combing the area, which is the opposite side of the sports centre to where the teenager’s body was originally found.
In a statement, Hampshire Constabulary said: “We can confirm that we carried out new searches at Southampton Sports Centre as part of our ongoing investigation into Lucy McHugh’s murder.
“Those searches concluded last night. This was in an area not previously searched. We were following a new line of enquiry.”
Stephen Nicholson, a family friend who had lived with the McHugh family, was arrested on suspicion of murder and sexual activity with a child just days after Lucy’s body was discovered.
When officers demanded he let them see his Facebook messages he refused, and was subsequently charged with Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. He pleaded guilty and was jailed for 14 months in August.
Lucy was last been seen at her family home in the west of the city, before a member of the public discovered her body in woods close to a sports centre the next day.
Murder detectives quickly focused their investigation on Nicholson, 24, and arrested him after the teenager’s body was found.
But their investigation foundered after they were unable to check if Nicholson had been sending private Facebook messages to Lucy.
Shortly after their enquiries began, the police released pictures of the clothes Lucy had been wearing when she was last seen in an effort to track down anyone who had seen her in the hours before she was killed.
Mr Salter and his daughter were sleeping overnight in the pleasure park, which his family has owned for 40 years, the night that Lucy is believed to have been killed, he said. Police questioned him at the time but he said that he did not hear anything suspicious.
Families had all but stopped coming to his pleasure park, Mr Salter also said. “It’s affected our business tremendously. People aren’t going to take their kids to a murder scene.
“It’s been the worst season we have ever had. The story keeps going and going.”