Tia Sharp: police face questions after body discovered in grandmother's house

Tia Sharp: police face questions after body discovered in grandmother's house
David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent, and Ben Leach
11 Aug 2012

Scotland Yard faces mounting questions over its handling of the Tia Sharp murder case after a body was discovered in her grandmother's house a week after the girl's disappearance and despite repeated searches of the property.

• Police find body at the home of grandmother Christine Sharp

• Step-grandfather Stuart Hazell arrested after manhunt

• Questions why first three police searches failed to find evidence

Detectives hunting for the missing 12 year-old discovered a body after using ladders to reach the loft space at the home of Tia's grandmother Christine Sharp.

Senior officers now face tough questions over their failures in the case, which diverted police officers away from the Olympic security effort in the hunt for Tia near her home in New Addington, south London.

Stuart Hazell, Tia's step-grandfather, was arrested on suspicion of murder on Friday night after going missing, prompting a huge manhunt.

Neighbours in the estate where Tia lived said they felt let down by the police.

There was speculation that the human remains discovered by police had been in Mrs Sharp's house all along.

Police combed the property three times before discovering any trace of the schoolgirl, including a search by sniffer dogs trained to detect cadavers.

Commander Neil Basu, who has headed the case since Tia was reported missing more than a week ago, said: "Clearly there will be many questions about the investigation into Tia's disappearance and I want to take this opportunity to clarify some of the speculation."

He said the inquiry had been "difficult and challenging".

"A number of searches took place at the address," said Mr Basu.

"When Tia was first reported missing, officers searched her bedroom as is normal practice in a missing persons inquiry.

"A further search of the house took place in the early hours of Sunday morning by a specialist team. This was then followed by another search of the house by specialist dogs on Wednesday lunchtime.

"What we now need to establish is how long the body had been in the place where it was found. This will be subject of the ongoing investigation and it would be wrong to jump to any conclusions until all the facts have been established."

Scotland Yard's failure to keep Stuart Hazell under surveillance during the house search led to a city-wide hunt when the suspect went on the run yesterday.

More police resources, including a helicopter deployed for several hours, were taken up until the 37 year-old was eventually arrested on Cannon Hill Common at Morden, south-west London.

He is believed to have been the last person to see the schoolgirl before she was reported missing.

Scene of Stuart Hazell's arrest in Cannon Hill Common, Morden

Mr Hazell had claimed Tia told him she was going shopping to buy a pair of flip-flops in nearby Croydon, before leaving the house alone.

About 80 police officers and scores of locals have spent the past week scouring CCTV footage and searching nearby woodland and waste ground for any clues to her disappearance.

Yesterday afternoon the focus of the hunt switched to Mrs Sharp’s house, with sniffer dogs and forensic officers entering the property.

Scotland Yard said the search was part of a pre-planned operation that was expected to take two days, but by 1.15pm a planned press briefing had been hurriedly cancelled, indicating there had been a major development.

Just before 5pm it was announced that a body had been found.

Officers were seen entering the house with a large collapsible ladder and it is thought the body may have been discovered in the loft space.

Tia’s family, including her mother Natalie, have been at the property for the past seven days, desperate for a positive breakthrough in the investigation.

Neighbours expressed their shock and disgust at the discovery, but also questioned why it had taken so long to find the body.

Mr Hazell, who was previously in a relationship with Tia’s mother, was questioned by police earlier in the week after claims that there were inconsistencies in his version of events.

On Thursday he gave a television interview in which he insisted he had nothing to do with Tia’s disappearance.

He told ITV News: “Did I do anything to Tia? No I didn’t. I’d never think of that. I loved her to bits, she’s like my own daughter. She’s got a lovely home. I can’t work out what’s going on. She’s a happy-go-lucky golden angel. She’s perfect.”

But he disappeared yesterday morning, telling members of Tia’s family he was going out to help in the search.

Mark Williams Thomas, the criminologist who interviewed Mr Hazell, said: “The first rule of any major investigation is that you secure the premises and ensure the child isn’t there. There are many cases where the child has hidden in the home.”

Mr Hazell was arrested last night after being identified by a member of the public. Witnesses said he had been seen in a nearby shop buying vodka and asking: "Have you seen Tia?"

Graham Sutton, a former Scotland Yard detective, told BBC Radio Four's Today programme: "I think it's possible that the position the police find themselves in these days is that the balance errs on the side of caution in terms of disrupting the family and disrupting their sensitivities.

"That may mean the investigation is not as robust and thorough as it ought to be."

Three police vans arrived at the scene this morning, while more than a dozen officers entered the cordoned off area around the house.

Flowers, teddy bears and candles remained near the house after neighbours and friends left tributes to Tia last night.

One message read: "Rest in peace Tia. Justice will be served."

Another read: "Tia Sharp, beautiful angel, taken too soon, our thoughts are with all of you."

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