Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Lucy McHugh murder case: Stephen Nicholson jailed for life

Lucy McHugh Image copyright Family handout
Image caption Lucy McHugh was found stabbed to death in woodland at Southampton Outdoor Sports Centre

A lodger who raped and murdered a 13-year-old girl to stop her exposing him as an abuser has been jailed for life.

Stephen Nicholson, 25, stabbed Lucy McHugh 27 times at Southampton Outdoor Sports Centre last July.

He was found guilty of murder and three charges of raping Lucy after a trial at Winchester Crown Court and was ordered to spend at least 33 years in jail.

Judge Mrs Justice May said Lucy had "unknown promise, cruelly obliterated" and described Nicholson as "depraved".

The judge told Nicholson: "This was a pitiless attack on a child following months of sexual exploitation.

"The prosecution has described it as an execution and I am satisfied this is correct.

"The combination of [Nicholson's] cold narcissism and hot anger dictated that she had to be put out of the way and he saw to it that this was done."

The trial heard Nicholson first raped Lucy, then aged 12, in May 2017 while living at her home, and on two further occasions over the following week.

Mrs Justice May said Lucy had been "vulnerable, easy prey to someone satisfying his own appetites".

She said Nicholson "encouraged and cynically exploited" Lucy's "crush" on him after he had moved into the family house, and called him "utterly selfish and depraved".

Image copyright Hampshire Police
Image caption Nicholson refused to give police his Facebook password after he had deleted messages from Lucy

Nicholson had later decided Lucy had "become a serious object to his comfortable life and there was a real threat of her outing him as a paedophile".

The judge said teachers had "done the right thing" in raising concerns to social services but no action was taken.

She added: "The [social services] team had investigated and had found nothing to concern them. The obvious question is, 'how could social services have arrived at that conclusion, not once but twice?'".

Southampton City Council declined to comment due to an ongoing serious case review into the reports made to its social services department. The review is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Nicholson was also found guilty of sexual activity with another girl, aged 14, in 2012.

Children's home hostage

Victim impact statements from Lucy's mother and father were submitted to the court.

The court heard Nicholson had previously been detained in 2009 for taking staff and residents of a Southampton children's home hostage, when he was aged 14.

Prosecutor William Mousley QC told the court that while he was a resident of the home - under the influence of amphetamines - Nicholson threatened staff with a knife.

He then locked them and other children in a room, before stealing £1,000 in cash and making off in a staff member's car.

He was also later convicted of affray and damaging property after he barricaded himself in a room and threatened staff at a young offenders centre.

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Media captionStephen Nicholson recorded the video after being released from prison in 2012

Nicholson recorded a music video in 2012 as part of a music rehabilitation project after being released from prison that year, in which he rapped about turning his life around, having previously not cared about who he hurt.

Defence barrister James Newton-Price QC said Nicholson had a "difficult" upbringing, having been placed in a children's home from the age of 13.

Jurors heard Nicholson moved into the family home after being invited by long-time friend Richard Elmes, the partner of Lucy's mother Stacey White.

The trial heard Lucy would later describe Nicholson to friends as her "boyfriend".

Nicholson told police Lucy sent him a message the night before her murder, saying she was pregnant.

After luring her to woodland nearby, he stabbed her 27 times, including 11 in the neck, in what prosecutors described as an "'execution-style" murder. It was later found Lucy was not pregnant.

Nicholson was linked to the murder via DNA evidence found on clothing discarded in woodland about a mile from the murder scene.

He was also convicted of sexual activity with a 14-year-old girl in 2012, who he had taken to the same woodland where Lucy was found dead years later.

Nicholson was cleared of one count of sexual activity with a child which related to Lucy after she had turned 13.

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