Why did it take police a week to find her?

Why did it take police a week to find her?
Met were forced to apologise to Tia's family after FOUR searches failed to spot her body in grandmother's loft
13 May 2013
Daily Mail
Chris Greenwood, Tom Kelly and Eleanor Harding

Eighty police failed to find Tia’s body even though it lay only a few feet from her bedroom in her grandmother’s house.

They spent a week scouring hundreds of hours of CCTV and at least a dozen officers, with dogs, searched the house no fewer than four times.

But astonishing blunders meant the 12-year-old’s body remained undiscovered at the small property in Croydon, South London.

By the time it was recovered, when the stench of decomposition was overwhelming, it was so badly damaged that she could only be identified by dental records.

The blunder means vital evidence was lost and her family will never know the full circumstances of her death.

Relatives said they are haunted by the thought that she was lying abandoned above them as the country was transfixed by the mystery of her disappearance.

Speaking last night, Tia’s grandfather Paul Sharp, said: ‘I’m disgusted that the police officers didn’t find the body.

Stuart Hazell, 37 changed his plea half-way through his Old Bailey trial and admitted killing the 12-year-old

‘They should have known she never left that house - people would have seen her.'

He added: ‘The body was unrecognisable when they found it.

'That’s how badly decomposed it was. They had to do a dental check on her.

‘I don’t understand how they couldn’t smell it.

'The whole house must have stunk.’

Police only found Tia’s body tightly wrapped in plastic bin liners in the tiny loft space during a fifth search.

Officers complained they were hampered because they feared falling through the unboarded ceiling and the space was hot and uncomfortable.

Earlier searches not only missed Tia, but a wealth of other evidence, including her damaged glasses, because officers thought bags holding them were ‘too light’ to be significant.

They blamed police procedure as the officers were on a missing person inquiry and looking for someone who was alive.

The first ‘brief examination’ of the house was undertaken by local officers on August 3, the day Tia was reported missing.

The second, a more thorough check, was carried out the next day by two sergeants and two PCs.

Among them was Sgt Keith Lyons who told the jury that Hazell helped him, providing a chair and telling him - chillingly - that he ‘always’ used it to access the loft.

Sgt Lyons spent five minutes searching with his torch in the unlit loft.

He said: ‘My legs were dangling down. ‘I know I’m clumsy and I was concerned I was going to go through the roof.

‘I was surprised how clear it was. I expected there to be much more junk.

‘I was searching for a missing girl and from what I could see the loft seemed very clear. I thought ‘she is not hiding in here.’

In the early hours of the following morning a specialist team, comprised of a sergeant and five PCs, carried out a third search.

PC Steven Jeffries, one of the officers involved, said: ‘I have never searched a loft before and I didn’t want to cause any damage.’

The officers spent 25 minutes searching, including moving black bags around that the team believed did not contain anything significant.

On a fourth search of the house on August 8 a specially trained dog also signalled towards the ceiling under the loft.

But officers decided it was not necessary to check again as it had been searched before and the animal was too big to put in the loft safely.

It took another two days, until officers noticed a stench in rooms at the top of the house, for Tia to be found.

A so-called ‘cadaver dog’, trained to detect the smell of decomposition, indicated that it was coming from the loft.

This time, after removing an overfilled bin bag, officers found Tia wrapped in a ‘body shaped package’ within three feet of the hatch.

Unlike the other items it was dust free and her big toe was sticking out through the plastic wrapping.

DC Daniel Chatfield said: ‘The loft was extremely confined. It was very hot and quite chaotic. After approximately 10 minutes the body was found .

‘My colleague alerted me to what he believed to be the body of Tia. On the side nearest to me I could see a foot. I could reach her ankles with my arms, it was three foot away at most.’

The missing girl was identified through DNA testing and dental records. A pathologist could not find a definitive cause of death.

Also in the loft was a cardboard box containing two other plastic bags, one with Tia’s yellow top and leggings and another with sweet wrappers and her broken glasses.

Met Commander Neil Basu, who was responsible for finding Tia, insisted the murder victim’s body was ‘well concealed’.

He said a review found ‘human error’ in how the searches were conducted and managed was to blame for the extraordinary mistake.

He added that the PC who first searched the loft was ‘inexperienced’ and he was given ‘words of advice’, the lowest form of disciplinary sanction.

The officer has since volunteered to stop undertaking searches.

His sergeant, who was responsible for supervising the search, also received ‘words of advice’.

Cmdr Basu said: ‘Both officers are devastated by their failure to find Tia and this case has deeply affected all those involved.

‘The Met apologised to Tia’s family as soon as it became apparent that her body had been missed.

‘While the police failure did not contribute to Tia’s death, the Met deeply regrets that this error caused additional distress to Tia’s family by prolonging the situation when it could have been brought to an earlier conclusion.’


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