POLICE have defended the investigation into the disappearance of 12-year-old Tia Sharp as it emerged that her grandmother’s house was searched three times before a body was discovered.
There were questions last night over why this grim find was not made sooner and how the man they were hunting has been able to go missing days after speaking to police and the media.
In a television interview on Thursday Stuart Hazell, the 37-year-old boyfriend of Tia grandmother Christine Sharp, issued a plea to Tia to come home.
Earlier yesterday Mrs Sharp, 46, said her boyfriend was helping with the search but he later became the target of a police manhunt. The schoolgirl was last seen at the house where Mrs Sharp and her boyfriend live in the New Addington estate near Croydon, south London,
Metropolitan Police Commmander Neil Basu, the area commander responsible for south-east London revealed last night that there had been four searches of the property. He said: “When police investigate cases as difficult and challenging as this, it is important that we do not just focus on one line of inquiry.
“For example we had over 60 reported sightings of Tia, 800 hours of CCTV footage to examine and 300 plus calls into the incident room. All of these lines of inquiry were in the process of being followed up.
“A number of searches took place at the address. 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.
“Throughout the inquiry, we have liaised closely with Tia’s family.
“We have kept them updated and have provided support at all times. The pre-planned search was undertaken with their full co-operation. Our priority now is to establish the facts of the case and to assist us with this, we are keen to speak to all those people who last saw Tia.”
Police have not revealed where the body was discovered. Officers were seen taking a ladder into the property this afternoon, sparking rumours it was in the loft.
Mrs Sharp left her home wearing a T-shirt appealing for her granddaughter to be found with police shortly before the search began, She broke down as she spoke about Tia’s disappearance.
“My only message to Tia is that I love her. She is my life. I don’t know where she has gone. I don’t know how she’s gone. She’s not staying away by choice, I know this.”
Neighbours expressed shock and anger at news that a body had been found.
Eileen Minogue said that residents on the close knit estate felt “betrayed”.
She added: “We’ve been searching woodland, we’ve spent two nights in the rain searching woodland, delivering leaflets.
“I feel for the genuine family, Tia’s mum and aunts, and have been in that house having sleepless nights. I have just seen one of her cousins collapsing, I can’t imagine how they feel.”
Alston Millington, 32, said: “Personally, I was hoping she had a bit of trouble at home and had run off, rebelling against the family maybe.
“It is such sad news. I live just around the corner and can’t believe it. I think it’s disgusting.”