A manhunt has been launched for the partner of Tia Sharp’s grandmother after police hunting for the missing 12-year-old found a body at the house where she was last seen alive.
Scotland Yard warned the public not to approach Stuart Hazell, who gave a TV interview at the house only yesterday in which he denied harming Tia and appealed for her to come home.
The body was found at the home Hazell shared with Tia’s grandmother Christine Sharp on the New Addington estate near Croydon, south London.
The grim announcement came just a few hours after police began a forensic search of the terrace house.
A police spokesman said: “We are seeking to find Stuart Hazell to be interviewed in connection with this case."
“He should not be approached and, if seen, people should call 999 immediately."
“There have been no arrests in connection with this investigation at this time.
“The family of Tia Sharp has been informed of the discovery.”
Hazell claimed Tia set off for the Whitgift Centre in Croydon last Friday to buy flip-flops, having spent Thursday night alone with him while her grandmother was at work.
In an interview with ITV News yesterday, Hazell issued a plea to Tia to come home.
Referring to the finger being pointed at him, he said: "Well, if they believe what they read in the papers, they can believe whatever they like because I know deep down in my heart that Tia walked out of my house, she walked out of there.”
Asked about his past, he said: "Everyone's got a shady past. My previous has nothing to do with it."
He also dismissed claims that his father contradicted his version of events. His father Keith claimed earlier that his son had walked her to the tram stop.
Mr Hazell said: "My dad likes a drink, he's got good intentions but he said everything back to front.
"If I'd have walked her to the tram stop, I would have come with her to Croydon, then none of this would have happened."
She told reporters this morning that her boyfriend was out helping in the hunt for Tia.
She said that Tia's mother Natalie was "in bits" and she did not know where she was as "she needed to get away".
She said: "We've all done our own little separate bit and Stuart's out doing that now."
Asked what he was doing, she said: "I don't know, I don't know where he is.
“Whatever way he is, he has had it hard. He knows the finger has been pointed at him. He knows this and it's been really hard for him.”
Until then, journalists had been able to approach the house, where Mrs Sharp, 46, lives with Hazell, 37, although at times reporters were met with hostility from family members.
Police did not reveal where the body was discovered.
Officers were seen taking a ladder into the property this afternoon, sparking rumours that it may have been found in the loft. A dark holdall was later seen being removed from the house.
Between 80 and 100 officers had been involved in searches for Tia, including in woodland near the house.
But the house was not fully searched until today.
Locals, who had congregated near the scene during the day, grew in number as news broke of the grim discovery.
Alston Millington, 32, said: “Personally, I was hoping she had a bit of trouble at home and had run off, rebelling against the family, maybe.
“I was hoping she would be found somewhere with somebody."
She added: “It is very hard to get out of Addington without being seen in either a car, tram or bus. It is such sad news.
“I live just around the corner and can’t believe it. I think it’s disgusting.”
Neighbour Chloe Hickie, 20, said: “I feel sick, I have just been told.
“I didn’t want to say it but I had a gut feeling because she hadn’t been seen for a week.
“It makes me feel sick to my stomach. I am in absolute shock.”
Police covered the front of the house with a blue and white forensic tent as examinations continued inside.
Eileen Minogue, 40, who helped search, hand out fliers and deliver leaflets, said: "It is disgusting that the body has been in there all that time.
"I feel for the genuine family, Tia's mum and aunts, and have been in that house having sleepless nights.
"I have just seen one of her cousins collapsing, I can't imagine how they feel."
She added: "The community is angry.
"Things never added up fully but you don't want to cast aspersions.
"The most important thing was to try and bring Tia home."
Paul Meehan, 39, who lives next-door to the crime scene, said: "I have two young children aged eight and 12 - it's very scary for them."
The criminologist who carried out a television interview with Stuart Hazell has expressed his sadness at the discovery of a body by police
Mark Williams-Thomas spent more than an hour with Hazell, the partner of Tia's grandmother Christine Sharp, at their home in New Addington, near Croydon, south London, yesterday.
He said on Twitter that Hazell had thanked him for doing the interview.
Mr Williams-Thomas wrote: "Such sad news - I stayed downstairs yesterday. The other members of the family were all upstairs. I was not allowed to go into Tia's room."
A second tweet read: "When I last spoke to the family last night around 8pm Stuart Hazell was in the background & thanked me for the interview."
Shortly after recording the interview for ITV News, Mr Williams-Thomas had written: "Spent time with nearly all the family today very emotional."