STUART Hazell will tell jurors Tia Sharp died in an accident before her body was placed in the loft, his defence has said.
Hazell pleaded not guilty on Friday to the murder last August of the schoolgirl, whose body was found in the loft of her grandmother's house in The Lindens, New Addington, a week after she was reported missing.
The 37-year-old boyfriend of Tia's grandmother is due to stand trial at the Old Bailey on May 7, where the 12-year-old's cause of death is expected to be key to the outcome.
His lawyer, Lord Carlile QC, told the Old Bailey last Friday: "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, missed 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, shaking his head lightly as he did so.
His trial is expected to last two weeks.
Prosecuting, Andrew Edis QC said: "The news is good in that arrangements are proceeding smoothly for a trial to take place on the date fixed.
"The issue as identified in the defence case statement is that there was an accident at the house, as a result of which Tia Sharp died, and Mr Hazell will be claiming to be innocent in relation to that; he panicked and hid her body in the loft."
Tia's relatives and friends attended court to hear Hazell's plea, including her mother Natalie Sharp and stepfather David Niles. Last month, grandmother Christine Sharp's neighbour pleaded not guilty to wasting police time during the search for the schoolgirl.
Paul Meehan, 40, of The Lindens, appeared at Croydon Magistrates' Court on February 28. He will stand trial there on May 3, accused of making a false report that he had information linked to the inquiry.
Raynes Park High School pupil Tia was reported missing on Saturday, August 4, sparking a massive missing persons hunt, during which residents printed and handed out posters, conducted their own searches, and wore "Find Tia" t-shirts.
Hazell was arrested in Merton hours after her body was found by police on August 10, and charged with her murder the next day.Hazell has secured one of the country's top lawyers in the form of Lord Alexander Carlile. The £900-a-day QC, who in Hazell's case will be paid for by legal aid, served as a Lib Dem MP between 1983 and 1997, when he became a life peer. The 65-year-old has successfully represented a number of high-profile defendants, including former royal aide Paul Burrell when he faced charges of stealing heirlooms from Princess Diana's estate. As a member of the House of Lords, Carlile spent six years reviewing the country's terror laws. He has been a staunch critic of the Coalition's moves to cut legal aid.