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Man jailed for life with minimum term of 33 years for murder of Lucy McHugh

Lucy McHugh - picture credited to Hampshire Police

A man's been jailed for life, with a minimum of 33 years, for the rape and murder of 13-year-old Lucy McHugh in Southampton.

Stephen-Alan Paul Nicholson, aged 25, of no fixed abode, was also found guilty yesterday of the teenager's murder and of sexual offences relating to Lucy and to a 14-year-old girl in 2012.

Lucy McHugh's body was discovered in woodland near Southampton Sports Centre in July last year.

Nicholson had denied killing the schoolgirl after she threatened to tell her mother he'd got her pregnant.

Hampshire Police say thousands of hours of CCTV footage were scanned and the movements of Lucy and Nicholson that day were gradually pieced together.

In August - following the biggest fingertip search in British policing history - officers found items of Nicholson’s burnt clothing at Tanner’s Brook in Southampton.

Nicholson was charged with Lucy’s murder and a number of sexual offences on 14th November 2018.

He was found guilty of:

  • Murder of Lucy McHugh
  • Three counts of rape of a child under 13 (Lucy)
  • One count of sexual activity with a child under 16 (a girl aged 14 in 2012)

He was found not guilty of:

  • Two counts of sexual activity with a child under 16 (Lucy)

Nicholson will be sentenced on 19 July.

(Above: Stephen-Alan Paul Nicholson - picture credited to Hampshire Police)

After the guilty verdict was given at Winchester Crown Court yesterday, Detective Superintendent Paul Barton from Hampshire Police said:

“Our thoughts are with Lucy’s family and friends, who will never see her fulfil her hopes and dreams.

“Stephen Nicholson has been shown to be a predatory paedophile who lured a 13-year-old girl to her brutal death.

“This was a case that shocked the city and the support we received from the local community was excellent.

“The investigation faced a number of challenges and my officers and staff deserve enormous credit for their efforts in gathering evidence.

“This showed the high tech approach required in modern day policing, alongside good, old-fashioned detective work.

“Today’s guilty verdict is testament to the bravery of the witnesses who gave evidence to bring this violent and manipulative man to justice.

“He continues to show no remorse for what he has done and has put Lucy’s family through the ordeal of a trial.”

The NSPCC has given its reaction to the news. A spokesperson said: 

“This is a horrific case in which a young girl’s life was brutally cut short by a predator who had already subjected her to sickening sexual abuse.

“It is clear that Nicholson is an extremely dangerous individual and it is right that he is now facing the consequences of his actions.”

Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner Michael Lane said:

“The investigation into the murder of Lucy McHugh drew on expertise across Hampshire Constabulary and very many people will take professional satisfaction from the outcome and knowing they have done everything they could to give support to Lucy’s family and reassurance to our communities.

“A key ingredient involved seeking to access social media records believed to be crucial to the investigation. This was a long and complicated process involving international agencies and protocols. I commend officers for persevering and exploring every option available to them to obtain the information they needed to get justice for Lucy and her family.

“I recognise that there is a balance to strike between an individual’s right to privacy and someone else’s right to justice. Social media companies are beginning to engage more with their responsibilities and take steps to help keep people safe from harm online.  I believe there needs to be a recognition of their social responsibility when it comes to bringing criminals to justice. The Government must with international partners seek to put legislation in place that reflects current technology and is adapted and updated in a timely way to ensure murderers, criminals and those that wish us harm can be brought to account and our communities appropriately protected.

“This drawn-out process resulted in additional worries and stress for Lucy’s family, and more needs to be done to streamline the process so that victims of crime don’t have to endure further suffering.”

Hampshire Police have released these facts about the investigation:

  • Around 2,300 exhibits collected
  • More than 300 reports from members of the public
  • 11,200 hours of CCTV analysed from more than 140 premises
  • Biggest fingertip search (murder scene and Tanner’s Brook combined) - 30,000 square metres, 190 officers took part, nearly 5,000 officer hours
  • Total search area across investigation in excess of 610,000 square metres (includes above)

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