THE grandmother of missing schoolgirl Tia Sharp was being questioned by detectives tonight after she was arrested on suspicion of her murder.
• Christine Sharp arrested on suspicion of murdering granddaughter Tia Sharp
• Partner Stuart Hazell arrested yesterday, also on suspicion of murder
• Ms Sharp’s body discovered in grandmother’s house - but only after police performed four searches of property
Christine Sharp, 46, was detained following the discovery of a body at her home in New Addington, near Croydon, south London, on Friday.
Her partner, Stuart Hazell, 37, was also arrested on Friday evening on suspicion of murder after a schoolgirl reportedly spotted him in Merton, south-west London.
Sharp’s next-door neighbour, Paul Meehan, 39, was later taken into custody on suspicion of assisting an offender. All three are being questioned at a south London police station.
Tia, 12, was reported missing on 3 August, a week before the first arrest was made by the Metropolitan Police. She was last seen alive at the property. A team of forensic officers discovered the body at Sharp’s home during a fourth search, prompting concerns about how police had handled the case.
Last night police blamed “human error” for the failure to find a body in Tia’s grandmother’s house. A spokesman apologised for the “distress and concern” caused by the delay.
Tia’s bedroom was searched after she was reported missing. Last Sunday, a specialist team again search the house.
A third search on Wednesday involved the use of sniffer dogs.
The body was removed by police from the terraced house late on Friday after Hazell was taken into custody.
A post-mortem examination is expected to take place in the coming days.
Police have not revealed where the body was found, but officers were seen taking a ladder into house on Friday afternoon, sparking speculation that it may have been in the loft. A dark holdall was later removed from the house.
Hazell is believed to have been arrested in a park in Merton about 8.25pm on Friday, after being identified by an 11-year-old girl shortly after he had bought alcohol at an off-licence. She returned home and told her stepfather she had seen Hazell. He rang police when his step-daughter alerted him to news reports about the case.
On Thursday, Hazell gave a television interview in which he declared that he “loved” Tia as if she was his own daughter.
He said: “Did I do anything to Tia? No, I bloody didn’t. I’d never think of it, I loved her to bits like she is my own daughter. She wanted it, she got it. She has got a loving home. I know deep down she walked down that path. What happened after that I don’t know.”
John O’Conner, a retired commander with the Met Police, was among those to question the police operation yesterday.
He said: “The police should have gone into that house quicker... If police have enough evidence to bring in sniffer dogs, they have enough evidence to pull the place apart. It’s unforgivable they didn’t do that.
“You can’t rely on a dog – you need human brains. They haven’t done very well. That child should have been found much quicker.”
Commander Neil Basu, the area commander responsible for south-east London and the officer leading the investigation, has defended the police’s approach, pointing out there had been 60 reported sightings of the schoolgirl.
There was a significant police presence yesterday at the Sharp home, as forensics investigators carried out a further search for evidence.
Feelings were again running high in the area, with some residents paying respect to the schoolgirl, and others expressing anger towards Scotland Yard.
Dale Robertson, 44, said thorough searches of the house should have been carried out sooner. He said: “There’s a mixture of anger and heartbreak. People feel aggrieved.
“I don’t think it happened soon enough. After 24 hours they should have been ripping that house apart.”
Neighbour Anthony Bramwell, 63, said: “People were leaving candles at the bus stop. But it doesn’t even look like she made it to the bus stop.”
Others continued to leave flowers, teddy bears, candles and other tributes near the Sharp house.
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.”
Nicky Taylor, 46, and Shara Kinsley, 40, lit two candles for Tia. Taylor said: “She’s only a child, it’s so sad.”
Mike Fisher, the leader of Croydon Council, thanked those who had helped in the week-long search for Tia and appealed for calm to allow the police to carry out their investigation.
“Our thoughts and sympathy are with Tia’s family and friends at this incredibly difficult time,” he said.
“The last week has been extremely traumatic for everyone involved and the outcome of events is a deep tragedy for all of us.
“I do however want to say a personal thank you to everyone from the community who rallied round to help in the search.
“Their efforts and compassion are to be commended and I would now urge people to remain calm as the priority has to be for the police to be allowed to continue their investigations.”