STUART Hazell has been jailed for life for the murder of 12-year-old Tia Sharp. Hazell, who dramatically changed his plea to guilty yesterday - five days into his murder trial - will have to serve a minimum of 38 years behind bars. The 37-year-old was sentenced by a judge at The Old Bailey this morning (Tuesday). Mr Justice Nicol told the court there was no doubt Hazell developed a sexual attraction to Tia, but said he could not be sure whether there was a sexual motivation to the murder. He added: "Tia was not your blood relationship but there was a bond, you took pictures of her." The judge also said that the only sentencing option available to him was life imprisonment, but added a whole life term couldn't be applied to this case. Tia's body was found on August 10 last year in the loft of a home in The Lindens, New Addington, which Hazell shared with his then partner and Tia's grandmother, Christine Bicknell. The murderer went on the run but was hunted down by police around two hours afer the discovery of the body, having been caught on CCTV buying alcohol at an off-licence in Merton. He initially pleaded not guilty to murder and his trial began last Tuesday. But yesterday, in dramatic scenes, Hazell changed his plea and admitted murdering Tia. As the life sentence was announced, there were a mixture of cheers and cries of 'beast' from the public gallery. Christine Bicknell, Tia's gran, burst into tears and hugged a family member as the verdict was read out. Hazell, on the other hand, showed little emotion as he was led away to the dock. The judge added: "Tia was a sparky girl who was full of life and you took that life from her. "All that lay ahead of her - career, loves and a family of her own - will now never be and the loss of her has been devastating for her mother, her father and all of her relatives and friends." Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell, whose constituency includes New Addington, described the jail term as a "just punishment" for Hazell, but also spoke in support of the local community, who rallied around in the hunt for Tia. He said: "Throughout this tragedy I took comfort from the scale of the community response. Evidence from the trial now suggests that it was this community spirit that played a huge role in securing justice for Tia. "If the teams had not been scouring the area daily, Hazell may have attempted to move Tia's body, making the job of finding her and so catching him all the harder. "My thoughts and prayers are with Tia's family, the community of New Addington and everyone that has been affected by this tragedy. If there is one lesson we can take from this sad time, it's this. "The unwavering community spirit of New Addington is something we should all be proud of. I know I am."
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