Tia Sharp search: Body found in grandmother's house

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Media captionThe BBC's Ben Ando: "They are warning people not to approach Stuart Hazell"

Police searching for the missing schoolgirl Tia Sharp have found a body in her grandmother's south London home.

The Metropolitan Police said the body was found following a search of the property in New Addington, Croydon, earlier.

The 12-year-old has been missing since last Friday.

Police are seeking Stuart Hazell, 37, the partner of Tia's grandmother Christine Sharp, and have asked people to call 999 rather than approach him.

No arrests have been made.

'Matter of urgency'

Commander Neil Basu, of the Met, said the property had been searched three previous times in the past week and the latest search was carried out with the "full co-operation" of the family.

He said: "Our priority is to support the family of Tia at this distressing time and identify the body, which has been discovered, as quickly as possible.

"When Tia was first reported missing, officers searched her bedroom, as is normal practice in a missing persons inquiry.

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Media captionCommander Neil Basu: ''Our priority at this time is to support the family of Tia''

"A further search of the house took place in the early hours of Sunday morning by a specialist team.

"This was then followed by another search of the house by specialist dogs on Wednesday lunchtime.

"What we now need to establish is how long the body that's been discovered has been in place and where it was found, and this will be the subject of ongoing investigation and it would be wrong to jump to any conclusions until the facts have been established."

He added: "Our priority now is to establish the facts of this case and to assist us with this, we are keen to speak to all those people who last saw Tia. In particular, we want to trace Stuart Hazell as a matter of urgency."

Officers had cordoned off the area around the house at about noon to carry out a forensic search, which the Met had said could take up to two days.

Earlier, officers with a police dog spent about 30 minutes in the house.

Tia's uncle, grandmother and Mr Hazell had all made appeals to find the schoolgirl.

It is understood she regularly visited her grandmother's house and was believed to have been at the property alone with Mr Hazell on the night before she disappeared.

'Finger pointed'

Mr Hazell, who said he was not the last person to see the girl after she left the house, was questioned by police on Wednesday, but then released.

He claimed Tia set off for the Whitgift shopping centre in Croydon last Friday to buy flip-flops, having spent Thursday night alone with him while her grandmother was at work.

His sister, Sarah Parrat, said she did not believe her brother was involved and suspected "he is probably in a pub somewhere trying to get his head around it".

Alston Millington, 32, who lives nearby, said: "It is such sad news. I live just around the corner and can't believe it."

Following Tia's disappearance, a Facebook campaign was launched to find her and about 200 people helped police search a woodland near the house.

Before officers sealed the house earlier on Friday to carry out a search, Mrs Sharp was seen to leave the property with police in plain clothes.

At the time she said the missing girl's mother, Natalie, was "in bits" and that she did not know where she was as "she needed to get away".

She said all family members had done their "own little separate bit" to help in the search, including Mr Hazell, but she did not know where he was.

Mrs Sharp also added: "He knows the finger has been pointed at him.

"He knows this and it's been really hard for him."

In an interview on Thursday with ITV News, Mr 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."

Image caption The area around the house was cordoned off to carry out forensic search

Asked about his history, he replied: "Everyone's got a shady past. My previous has nothing to do with it."

Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell praised the support offered to the family and said the discovery of the body was "a huge blow".

"The police have yet to formally confirm that the body is Tia's, yet this devastating development will come as a huge blow to her family and the community in New Addington, all of whom have worked tirelessly to try to find her over the past week," he added.

Up to 80 police officers have been involved in the search for Tia, and more than 800 hours of CCTV footage has been gathered from the local area, trams and buses.

The 4ft 5in girl was last filmed by CCTV cameras on Thursday afternoon outside the Co-op in Featherbed Lane, near her grandmother's house. Since then officers found no trace of her.

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