Lucy McHugh murder: Care worker Stephen Nicholson guilty of raping and killing 13-year-old girl

Killer described as ‘cold and calculated predatory paedophile’

CCTV released by Hampshire Constabulary showing Lucy McHugh shortly before disappearing

A care worker has been found guilty of the rape and “execution-style” murder of 13-year-old Lucy McHugh in Southampton.

Stephen Nicholson, 23, repeatedly stabbed the teenage girl in the neck and upper body before leaving her to die in woodland on 25 July last year.

The trial at Winchester Crown Court heard he was a lodger at the home she shared with her mother Stacey White and stepfather Richard Elmes, who was Nicholson’s best friend.

Prosecutors said he groomed Lucy for more than a year before killing her when she threatened to tell her mother she was pregnant.

Detective Superintendent Paul Barton, of Hampshire Police, described Nicholson as a “cold and calculated predatory paedophile”.

“He has targeted Lucy, taken advantage of her and when she wanted a relationship with him, he has taken the decision to silence her once and for all by brutally killing her,” the detective said after the verdict.

“There are a lot of signs which would suggest that Nicholson had been planning this, maybe only for just a few days.

“All these things indicate to me that he knew exactly what he was doing, which makes this even more vicious.”

Nicholson, who admitted an interest in “soft choking” women during sex, may have used his second job as a tattoo artist to target underage girls, the detective added.

The investigation into Lucy’s death, described by the Crown Prosecution Service as “one of the largest in criminal history”, was hampered when Nicholson refused to give police his Facebook password.

After applying through the US courts for access to his account, prosecutors only received a log of his Facebook contacts with Lucy on the day that the trial started.

However the contents of any messages between the killer and his victim had been lost during the intervening year.

Nicholson was linked to the murder through DNA evidence found on clothing he discarded in woodland in Tanner’s Brook, about a mile from the murder scene at Southampton Sports Centre.

He denied having a sexual relationship with the girl, despite entries in Lucy’s diary referring to him taking her virginity and describing a genital piercing.

Nicholson showed no emotion as he was convicted at Winchester Crown Court of Lucy’s murder as well as three counts of rape when she was aged 12. Nicholson was also found guilty of sexual activity with a child in relation to another girl in 2012, who was aged 14.

The judge, Mrs Justice May, adjourned the case for sentencing on Friday.

Following the verdict Southampton City Council said a serious case review would investigate the handling of allegations that Lucy was being abused.

The trial heard the vulnerable teenager came to the attention of teachers after she told several friends that she was pregnant and had been having a sexual relationship with Nicholson. Lucy was also caught using Snapchat to message her “boyfriend” during class.

However the council’s multi-agency safeguarding hub decided to take “no further action” after talking to Lucy’s mother, Stacey White, who had become “very, very unhappy” at the involvement of social services.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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