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TIA SHARP: A community in mourning

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EIGHT months ago, New Addington was the centre of a week-long search for a missing 12-year-old girl.

Queuing outside the Octagon building were hundreds of residents, ready to hand out fliers about Tia Sharp – including, as it turned out, her murderer.

On Tuesday, hours after Stuart Hazell ended his lies and was jailed for at least 38 years, Tia's father returned to Central Parade and thanked the community for their efforts.

Steven Carter, his partner Melissa Potter, father Steve Carter and other family members quietly visited the estate and the Octagon – headquarters of the Pathfinders' community group, which helped lead the search.

Marion Burchell, chairman of Pathfinders, said: "They were overwhelmed with the response the community gave and said 'thank you all'.

"I cannot believe how dignified they are. Even in their darkest times they give us strength, as we give them strength.

"If they had not been such wonderful people and so strong, I don't know how we would have been on the other end. But we are very proud to say that they are friends now."

Flowers have been laid in tribute to Tia under a tree outside the building, with one card reading simply: "Justice has been done."

The estate had been "on tenterhooks" all morning waiting for Hazell's sentencing, added Pathfinders' Kirsty Pearce, but there was "relief" in regards to its length.

Eileen Clements, co-owner of the estate's Alwyn Club, which has planted a small memorial garden and plaque for Tia, added: "I know it is 38 years, but he took a child's life. It is very sad."

Mr Carter and family also returned to The Lindens home that Hazell shared with Tia's maternal grandmother, where Tia's body was found.

The schoolgirl would regularly stay here when not in Merton with her mother Natalie Sharp, and she had texted Hazell asking to stay on the weekend that he killed her.

Underneath the metal plates and security cameras guarding the house – soon to be demolished – fresh flowers were laid for Tia in what is said to be her favourite colour, yellow.

"God rest your soul, New Addington's angel," one card says.

Prolific liar Hazell had tried to blame neighbours here for Tia's death, mentioning in particular "Somalians a few doors down," who, a neighbour said this week, did not even exist.

His lies were knocked down one by one during the four-day trial at the Old Bailey, where the court heard how the overwhelming attention paid to Tia's disappearance effectively stopped Hazell getting rid of evidence.

"I'd like to say that, at the end of the day, the community did help change the outcome," added Ms Pearce.

Ward councillor George Ayres said the estate's community had shown great "compassion, dignity and fortitude".

He added: "I have received, from all over the country, expressions of sympathy and support for Tia's family and the wider community of New Addington.

"The passing of a child is such a tragic loss that there are no words that can provide the balm to heal the appalling emotional wounds suffered by Tia's family and friends.

"My heartfelt sympathy goes to each and every one."

Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell, whose constituency includes New Addington, said: "The community spirit 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."

TIA SHARP: A community in mourning


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