“He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it the second time.”
It was the 2nd of August 2012. 12 year old Tia Sharp lived with her mother Natalie, Natalie's partner and her two younger brothers in London in the United Kingdom. She spent some nights and some weekends at her grandmother's house which was also in London. Her grandmother, Christine, lived with her partner Stuart Hazell. Stuart was not Tia’s grandfather but he had been in Tia’s life since she was just two years old so she very much saw him as a grandfather figure and looked up to him.
Natalie had Tia when she was young and Tia was very close to both Natalie and Christine. Christine was a big part of Tia’s life. The three of them were more like friends. So on that day, the 2nd of August, it was completely normal and natural for Tia to go and spend time at her grandparent's house.
Tia was super excited when she was told she could stay at her grandparent's house. She had more space there and a bit of time to herself . Tia was full of confidence and fun and independent. Even so, on that day, Natalie made sure to drop her off at the tram. The plan was for Tia to get the tram and Stuart would be waiting for her at the platform the other end.
Tia knew it would be just Stuart waiting for her as Christine worked nights so she wouldn't see her until the next day. That was fine with Tia as it meant she could have some quality time with Stuart. Their time together usually involved playing computer games on the playstation.
CCTV Footage of Stuart and Tia at the supermarket
As planned, Stuart met Tia when she got off the tram and CCTV footage showed Tia and Stuart buying food in the local supermarket. Christine rang later that night to ensure everything was fine and it was.
CCTV Footage of Tia at the supermarket
3rd August 2012
The following day, the 3rd of August 2012, Christine arrived home after her night shift but Tia wasn't there. There was nothing that unusual about that. Stuart told Christine that Tia went into town. She left the house around midday to get a bus. She wanted to go into town as she needed some new shoes. By 6pm that evening, Christine was slightly concerned that Tia was still not home. It was a long time for her to be in town. She contacted Natalie to ask her if she had heard from Tia that day but Natalie had not and she tried to then contact Tia via phone and through Facebook but there was no reply. Natalie, Christine and Stuart went out looking for Tia. At that stage, they thought Tia may have just missed the bus but when there was still no sign of her at 10pm, they went to the police station to report her missing.
The Search for Tia
Stuart told the police that the last time he saw Tia was around midday when she left the house to get a bus into town. A neighbour, Paul Meehan, confirmed that he also saw Tia leave the house around that time too so police had to establish where exactly Tia went when she left the house at midday. To assist with that, they collected 800 hours of CCTV footage to view from the area, the bus route and town. A search of the grandparent's house revealed that wherever Tia was, she had not taken her phone with her. Natalie began to really worry about her.
Natalie and Christine
The media played a big role in the search for Tia. As we know from cases like Madeleine McCann, some missing children cases get more attention than others. In Tia's case, there was huge media attention and reporters and camera crews all set up around Christine's house as that was the last place Tia had been seen. There was huge news coverage and the ongoing missing child case was almost on a continuous loop on Sky News and other news channels. Tia's uncle made a televised appeal for her safe return. Police received many calls in relation to possible sightings of Tia. Unfortunately, none of the sightings were of Tia. The community really pulled together in this case. Search parties went out every night looking for Tia led by Christine , Stuart and Natalie. But there was just no sign of Tia anywhere.
The Lost Week
The police, media, public and Tia's family all searched for Tia in the days that followed. The peculiar thing about the case was that the CCTV footage that police viewed showed no sightings of Tia on the 3rd of August. This led to some questioning Stuart's version of events .Stuart was outraged that people questioned him and he contacted the TV station, ITV, to request an interview so that he could clear his name. This was now the 9th of August . They agreed.
10th August 2012
Just one day after that interview, Christine woke up in her house to an intense smell. She tried to find the cause but didn’t know where it was coming from. Stuart left early that morning to get a newspaper from the shop. Police told Christine they would be searching her house again that day. This was the fourth time the house was searched. This time, they made a heartbreaking discovery and managed to locate where the intense smell was coming from. In the loft they found a body which had been wrapped in a bed sheet and bin bags. They also found a bag with clothes inside and a pair of broken glasses. The body was badly decomposed but identification through dental records confirmed that it was the body of Tia Sharp.
The Unusual Case of Tia
When it was reported that Tia's body had been found in her grandmother's house, there was disbelief. Nobody could believe that despite police searching there three times before that day, nothing was found. Police said that this was the result of human error. Police knew then that Stuart had lied about Tia leaving the house on the 3rd of August. So they needed to find out why and what he was hiding. Stuart never returned from the shop. Police appealed for the public's help in finding Stuart. They received a tip off. Thankfully, due to the media, everyone was aware of who Stuart was and what he looked like. He had only given the ITV interview the day before. He was found in a park drunk.
Now that police had Stuart they had to establish if he was involved in Tia’s murder and if so, if he killed Tia alone. This was due to the fact there were a number of troubling things that had happened in the case. Tia’s body had been found in the home Stuart shared with Christine so there were questions that Christine needed to answer. Police needed to figure out if Christine was involved too. Another troubling feature related to the statement their neighbor Paul had given to police. He had confirmed he saw Tia leave the house at midday on the 3rd of August which verified Stuart’s account at the time and meant police spent a huge number of hours looking through CCTV footage. Paul was charged with wasting police time. Christine was also arrested but later released as it was clear from further evidence found in the house that there was only one perpetrator in this case and that was Stuart Hazell.
The cause of death could not be established in this case. Tia’s body was not found until the 10th of August even though it was believed Tia was killed late on the 2nd of August or early on the 3rd of August and as the body was left in the loft for that length of time and in the heat in the middle of Summer , it was badly decomposed. It was suspected that she was smothered.
Stuart told police that Tia had fallen down the stairs the night of the 2nd of August and he found her dead the next morning. He was drunk at the time and thought she would be fine. He hid her body in the loft as he panicked and didn’t want to upset Christine.
His story was just that. A story. The evidence did not align with Stuart’s version. Tia's body was found wrapped in a sheet. She was naked and that did not coincide with his accidental death account. It was his own memory cards though that revealed his true intentions. Memory cards were found in the house he shared with Christine. They had been hidden and it was clear why.
The man who Tia viewed as her grandfather did not view Tia as a granddaughter. Unbeknownst to Tia, Stuart had been filming her. She was doing normal and innocent things like moisturising her legs in the living room completely unaware that Stuart was filming her. There was also footage on the memory cards of her sleeping. It was clear from the memory cards that Stuart had been watching and fantasising about her for some time. This was further evident in his search history. He watched incest porn, schoolgirl porn and looked up young girls in glasses who resembled Tia.
Further images were found that were even more shocking and showed the level of Stuart's depravity. After he murdered Tia, Stuart took an image of her in a sexually suggestive and pornographic pose . An image that no doubt he wanted to keep to feed his sick and twisted fantasies. There were also images of Stuart himself in sexual positions, doing sexual acts and using objects in a sexual manner. A vibrator found in the house with blood on it matched Tia's DNA.
Christine leaving her house
The motive for Tia’s murder was clear. His voyeurism was no longer enough and for whatever reason, that night, he wanted to act out his sick fantasies on Tia. It may have been the case that Tia woke up to find Stuart doing something to her and she may have threatened to tell.
Stuart pleaded not guilty to the murder of Tia but just five days into the Trial, he changed his plea to guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison and was ordered to serve a minimum of at least 38 years.
Sketch of Stuart at Trial
In Tia's short life she was let down multiple times . Social services were involved with her but while they found her home life to be somewhat chaotic , there was no sign of any abuse. However a report was supposed to be given to Tia's school to ask them to watch Tia but it was never given. It is impossible to tell whether this would have made a difference or not as Stuart seemed to be able to hide his dark side and his obsession with Tia until the night she was killed. Tia was also let down by the police who only found her body on the fourth search of the house. Had she been found during the first search of the house, her body would not have been so badly decomposed.
While it is clear mistakes were made by different parties involved in Tia’s life, it was Stuart who she was let down by the most. He was in her life since she was just two years old and she loved him. She loved him like any granddaughter would love a grandfather. Stuart had briefly dated Tia’s mother Natalie at first and then began dating Christine . The man they had welcomed into their lives had 30 previous convictions and was in prison three times. However his offences were for drug dealing, assault and possession of a machete, none of which indicated that he was a paedophile. The man that Tia saw as her grandfather looked at her in a sexual way and his fantasies became a reality and ultimately led to Tia's death.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello