London, Aug. 13: A part Bengali, part Welsh senior police officer, Commander Neil Basu, is in charge of a murder case in London that has one important similarity with the killing of 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, in 2008.
The victim in the UK is a 12-year-old schoolgirl, Tia Sharp, whose body was found at her grandmother’s home on the fourth police search of the property.
How police missed Tia’s body on three previous searches is a lapse that Basu is being pressed to explain.
It will be recalled that after Aarushi was found with her throat slit on May 16, 2008, police initially named the missing family manservant Hemraj as the “prime suspect”.
Only Hemraj was not missing. His bloodied body was lying in the locked terrace of the house. How the police could have overlooked his body remains baffling to this day, though many have suggested it was a typical example of the incompetence of the Uttar Pradesh police.
The body was not discovered until a day later by another policeman visiting the crime scene because of sheer curiosity.
The characters involved in the Tia tragedy provide an insight into aspects of life in Britain’s “underclass” — something that was not reflected in Danny Boyle’s idyllic vision of the country presented to the outside world in his Olympics opening ceremony.
Tia was reported missing on Friday, August 3, from the terraced home of her grandmother, Christine Sharp, 46, in New Addington, south London. Police were told Tia had gone shopping in the nearby Croydon shopping centre.
Christine’s boyfriend, Stuart Hazell, was charged just after 3am yesterday with Tia’s murder. A man with previous convictions for drug offences, he had once been in a “relationship” with Tia’s mother, 30-year-old Natalie Sharp. At least, he cannot be accused of being ageist since he traded in Tia’s mother for Tia’s grandmother, who is all of 16 years older.
Christine, who was also questioned about the murder, is out on police bail, as is a next door neighbour, Paul Meehan, 39.
Basu, who is the Metropolitan Police South East London Area Commander, has been asked why Tia’s body was not found on the first, second and third searches but materialised on the fourth.
Around 100 officers, some pulled off Olympics duty, have been involved in the search for Tia. “An early review has been conducted and it is now clear that human error delayed the discovery of the body within the house,” Basu said. “We have apologised to Tia’s mother that our procedures did not lead to the discovery of the body on this search.”
It may, of course, be the case that Tia’s body was brought into the house once it had been searched and given the all clear. Some local garages have since been sealed. Police have also take away a holdall — was this used to move the body?
Basu, who has yet to prove himself to be a Feluda, has this explanation to offer: “When police investigate cases as difficult and challenging as this, it is important that we do not just focus on one line of inquiry. For example, we had over 60 reported sightings of Tia, 800 hours of CCTV footage to examine and 300 plus calls into the incident room. All of these lines of inquiry were in the process of being followed up.”
He went on: “A number of searches took place at the address. When Tia was first reported missing (August 3), officers searched her bedroom as is normal practice in a missing persons inquiry. A further search of the house took place in the early hours of Sunday morning (August 5) by a specialist team. This was then followed by another search of the house by specialist dogs on Wednesday lunchtime (August 8).”
He added: “What we now need to establish is how long the body had been in the place where it was found. This will be subject of the ongoing investigation and it would be wrong to jump to any conclusions until all the facts have been established.”
It is assumed the dogs detected the presence of the body. Police took in a ladder which suggests the body was concealed in the loft.
Significantly Basu also said: “All parts of the premises were searched including the location where a body was discovered, five days later, on Friday, August 10.”
This moves the case into the territory of Agatha Christie’s 4:50 from Paddington where the body is rolled off a moving train, recovered and hidden elsewhere.
There are other odd aspects to the case. Hazell absconded last Friday and was spotted by a schoolgirl but he had earlier voluntarily met a criminologist, Mark Williams-Thomas — the latter tweeted that Hazell had thanked him for the interview.
Strangely, Hazell chose to give an interview to ITV in which he claimed people were pointing the finger at him — especially after he was questioned by the police not as a “suspect” but as a “witness”.
Hazell said he “loved Tia to bits” like his own daughter.
Asked what his message was to Tia, he said emotionally: “Tia, come home, babe, come and eat your dinner......We love you. Come back, babe, please.”
After he went missing for most of the day last Friday, police said Hazell was a dangerous man and was not to be approached.
Other relatives have now become involved in expressing their sorrow. There is also Christine’s ex — Tia’s real grandfather Paul Sharp, 49 —who said: “I hope her killer dies in jail.”
Christine and Paul divorced 14 years ago. They had two children — David, 28, and Tia’s mother, Natalie. Paul said he would never forgave Christine for getting together with Hazell — who she knew had previously “dated” her own daughter Natalie.
It is the kind of plot that even Indian TV soap operas could not invent. Paul said: “I don’t ever want to speak to her and I don’t even want to speak to my daughter. They have let that man back into their lives. Natalie got rid of him once and then Christine let him back in again. It’s disgusting and I don’t want to know. Hazell used to live on the street when he was homeless and they took pity on him.”
Incidentally, Paul has a daughter, Danielle, 12, by another partner. Danielle was close to Tia, her niece, who was the same age as her.
Paul, who lives in Newcastle, had come to London to help in the search for Tia. He said how his son David — Tia’s uncle — was going to pick her up to join him at the caravan park he had booked. Danielle was looking forward to seeing Tia. “Now that’s all gone and I’m destroyed.”
Tia’s other grandfather, Stephen Carter, 52, has left flowers and a card at a shrine of friends’ and neighbours’ bouquets, teddies and candles near the tragedy scene.
Stephen, of Northampton — whose son Steve, 30, is Tia’s biological father — vowed: “We will have our day in court. There will be justice for my granddaughter.”
Meanwhile Tia’s mother Natalie and her current partner David Niles are “in denial” about the murder, according to relatives.
David’s mother Angie, 69, said: “It broke my heart to see him. He is in complete denial. I told him, ‘David, you have to face the facts now. You’ve got to open your eyes’. But he can’t. He still doesn’t believe that it’s Tia’s body. He said to me, ‘Mum, we just don’t know.’ It’s not just grief, he is in a state of complete shock. I asked him about the arrests, but he just doesn’t want to believe it.”
In modern Britain people do accept human relationships are in state of constant flux as they are made, broken and remade, to be broken again for the process to continue. Since marriage or live in relationships are no longer forever, there is an attempt to be pragmatic and get on with life. But problems can occur when women with young daughters or granddaughters in the household bring in new male partners.