Tia hunt calls on expertise of police in Shannon case

Police from the force that probed the kidnapping of Shannon Matthews have been consulted in the search for missing schoolgirl Tia Sharp, Scotland Yard have confirmed.

Tia, 12, has never run away before but vanished last Friday afternoon after telling relatives she was going to the Whitgift Centre in Croydon, south London, to go shopping.

Officers from West Yorkshire Police (WYP) as well as other forces around the country have been consulted in the search for Tia, police said.

Scotland Yard said they have liaised with WYP for their expertise in missing child cases, including the disappearance of then nine-year-old Shannon, who was kidnapped by her mother and her partner’s uncle in Feb 2008.

Karen Matthews and her accomplice Michael Donovan, from Dewsbury, were convicted in Dec 2008 of her kidnap, which they carried out to claim £50,000 (€63,600) in reward money.

In Jan 2009, Matthews and Donovan were both sentenced to eight years in jail but have since been released.

A police spokesman said: “As is routine, we liaise with all forces that have dealt with similar cases.

“This case, like the Shannon Matthews case, involved the search for a missing child. This is a missing persons inquiry and we are putting all of our resources into finding her.

“We would like to make it clear that officers who worked on a particular missing person case in West Yorkshire are not involved in the investigation to find Tia Sharp.

“This remains a missing person inquiry and we are keeping an open mind about the circumstances of Tia’s disappearance.”

Tia is thought to have been last seen at the house where her grandmother Christine Sharp, 46, lives with partner Stuart Hazell, 37, at The Lindensin, New Addington, south east London.

Mr Hazell, thought to be one of the last people to see Tia, was questioned by police as a witness for over two hours on Wednesday before returning home.

Police searched Tia’s grandmother’s bins and others around the estate yesterday, using sticks to scour through rubbish.

Refuse collections in The Lindens had been suspended at the request of officers but resumed later.

Tia’s mother, Natalie Sharp, 30, said she did not want to speak to reporters. Her partner, David Niles, 29, who left the house briefly to buy newspapers, said to reporters: “Just find my little girl, just find my little girl please.”

More than 80 officers have joined the hunt for Tia, while members of the local community have staged their own searches in the area where she vanished.

Scotland Yard has received over 300 calls and 60 reported sightings of Tia, including a member of the public who came forward saying they saw her leaving her grandmother’s house at about noon on Friday.

Metropolitan Police area commander Neil Basu said police could not be “absolutely sure” who the last person to see Tia on the estate was.

He stressed that the investigation remains a missing persons inquiry, with no suspects.

“I am looking to find Tia safe and well,” he added.

Olympics resources have been redirected to the search which involves about 40 detectives and 40 specialist search officers.

Mr Basu said police have collected more than 800 hours of CCTV footage from buses and trams, and viewed more than 120 hours of the material.

Searches have covered a 500m radius around Tia’s grandmother’s house, including woodland, garages, lock-ups and a school.

Mr Basu said he did not feel the schoolgirl would have left the area and the search was focused on the neighbourhood and Croydon, where Tia was heading to.

The local community has rallied to help search for the missing 12-year- old, donning ‘Find Tia’ T-shirts and handing out leaflets to motorists.

A candle is burning outside Tia’s grandmother’s house, which was searched by a police dog yesterday.

Candles and tealights have been left at a makeshift vigil at a bus stop nearby, along with hand-written messages asking for the schoolgirl to be brought home.

The Sun newspaper has offered a £25,000 reward for information that will lead to police finding Tia.

Phillip Wheatley, her headteacher at Raynes Park High School in Merton, described her as a friendly young person who is well-liked by staff and students and enjoyed a successful first year at the school.

He said: “Our thoughts are with Tia and her family at this time.

“I would urge anyone who thinks they may have seen Tia, or who has any information on Tia’s whereabouts, to contact the police immediately.”


Lifestyle

Ellie O’Byrne rounds up some of the virtual gigs, films and other eventsArts Noticeboard: Online entertainment options

It’s 25 years since Toy Story first stunned us with its brilliance. Esther McCarthy looks back onJohn Lasseter’s masterpiece and why it’s regarded as a milestone of modern cinemaInfinity and beyond: How Toy Story altered movie history

All the wines recommended this week are available for delivery.Wine with Leslie Williams: Looking for a wine delivery service? Here are a few ...

If I could be reborn for a day I’d be a cat. I love their serenity and independence and how they always manage to find that one shaft of sunlight.This Much I Know: Broadcaster, Mary Kennedy

More From The Irish Examiner