Now that Stuart Hazell has been charged with the murder of Tia Sharp
, it would be inappropriate to comment in any depth on the case. This has been a complex and somewhat bizarre investigation; the young girl's body was found by police after they had searched the house no less than four times. This has led not only to criticism but an apology. But is this criticism justified?
There are times when criticism of the police is warranted, and others when a great deal more is warranted; their treatment of Colin Stagg
during and after the initial Rachel Nickell murder investigation bordered on scandalous. Likewise their attempt to cover up the circumstances of the death of Ian Tomlinson
, and far, far worse the conspiracy of silence surrounding the death of Mark Duggan
beggar belief, but the criticism levelled at them in this case has been totally unwarranted, and it is quite astounding both that certain tabloids should have raised these issues and that the police should have felt the need to apologise.
It appears to have been forgotten that this case started as a missing person investigation. As Tia Sharp was only twelve years old, there was obviously some concern. Stuart Hazell was acknowledged to be the last person to see her. By the same token, Chris Jefferies
was the last person known to have seen Joanna Yeates alive. Stuart Hazell said he saw Tia leave her grandmother's house, and there was absolutely no reason not to believe him, in the first instance.
One should be reminded here of the case of Amanda Dowler
, who was only one year older than Tia. She was snatched off the street and murdered by Levi Bellfield, probably within minutes. When she didn't arrive home, she was reported missing promptly by her parents, who unlike Stuart Hazell and his lover, Tia's grandmother, were nice, middle class people. During the course of this investigation, the police made a cursory search of the Dowler household, including of the family computer. During this routine search they found a collection of what might be called kinky magazines, which in this day and age should embarrass no one, but even though there was no evidence that the victim had arrived home that day, they appeared to become fixated with this, and there is no doubt that Amanda's parents became suspects after a fashion.
Anyone who knows anything about police investigations should not be the slightest bit surprised. In missing person and murder investigations especially, these are bona fide
lines of inquiry, indeed it would be irresponsible for them not to consider these, even if by doing so they cause offence.
After her son was stabbed to death in April 1993, Doreen Lawrence didn't understand this, and spent the next decade and more whining about police racism
, an allegation that was given spurious credence by the equally ignorant
Sir William Macpherson. She didn't like her son's death being treated as gang-related, even though he was murdered by a gang! The suggestion that he might have been involved in drug dealing outraged her - as it would any parent. She would probably have been incensed if she'd realised she too was a potential suspect, but absurd as that suggestion may sound, the name Jeremy Bamber
should dispel it.
In the current case, Stuart Hazell and indeed every red-blooded male within a 5 mile radius was a potential suspect in a very general sense, and many women. Then there was of course the possibility that Tia had run away. It was only after they had checked hundreds of hours of CCTV that the police realised the solution was probably to be found closer to home.
So why did it take four searches of the house to find the body? Because the first searches were of the general nature alluded to above in the Dowler case.
Again, it would be inappropriate to comment on this case in any depth; although Hazell has been charged with murder, the victim's body has not yet been formally identified, so a) it may not be her, and b) for all we know, she may have died of natural causes.
Doubtless the truth will out in due course, but it doesn't do anyone any good to beat up on the police in the meantime. There will be plenty of opportunities for that next time they shoot an innocent man in the back of a mini-cab.