THE trial of Stuart Hazell – accused of murdering 12-year-old Tia Sharp – is due to start today at the Old Bailey. The schoolgirl's body was discovered, a week after she was reported missing, in the loft of her grandmother's house in The Lindens, New Addington, on August 10 last year. Hazell, the boyfriend of Christine Sharp, Tia's grandmother, was the last person to see her alive. The 37-year-old has pleaded not guilty to murder and is expected to tell jurors that Tia died in a "dreadful accident" before he panicked and hid her body. The Raynes Park High School pupil was reported missing on August 4. Her disappearance prompted a massive missing persons hunt which eventually involved more than 80 police officers. Residents printed and handed out posters, conducted their own searches and wore "Find Tia" t-shirts. Hazell, an unemployed painter and decorator, told police that Tia had left home in the morning to go shopping in Croydon for a pair of shoes. He then gave a detailed account of Tia's disappearance during a national television interview, telling a journalist he would "never think" of hurting her. Police officers conducted three searches of the house before Tia's body was found in a black bag, wrapped in a sheet, in the loft. Hazell was arrested later the same day in Merton after a tip-off from a member of the public. His barrister, Lord Carlile QC, told the Old Bailey in March: "Mr Hazell will assert there was a dreadful accident, and Tia Sharp died as a result of that and he panicked. "The body was placed in the loft where it remained undisturbed, missing by a number of police searches until it was found." Appearing via video-link from Belmarsh Prison, Hazell spoke only to confirm his name and enter his plea. Christine Sharp was initially arrested in connection with the death of her granddaughter but police confirmed in December that she would face no further action. Last month her neighbour, Paul Meehan, pleaded not guilty to wasting police time during the search. Tia lived with her mother Natalie Sharp and family in a flat in Lancaster Avenue, Mitcham. Merton Council is to conduct a Serious Case Review into whether social services should have identified warning signs and taken action in the lead up to Tia's death. Croydon Council plans to demolish the house where Tia's body was found and the adjoining property. The trial is expected to last two weeks. For live coverage from our reporter at court see this website later this morning (Tuesday).
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