Lucy McHugh: Care worker jailed for life over rape and murder of girl, 13, found in woods

Stephen Nicholson has been jailed for life for the brutal murder of Lucy McHugh

A care worker has been jailed for life for the “brutal and ferocious” murder of 13-year-old Lucy McHugh.

Stephen Nicholson, 25, was sentencing to life imprisonment with a minimum of 33 years after being found guilty of the murder of the schoolgirl following a four-week trial at Winchester Crown Court, as well as three counts of rape when she was 12.

Sentencing Nicholson, who the court heard had previously been detained for holding a group of youngsters and staff hostage at a children's home, Mrs Justice May said: "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 his 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."

Stephen Nicholson had previously been detained for holding a group of youngsters and staff hostage at a children's home, the court heard (Picture: PA)

Nicholson, described by police as a "predatory paedophile", lured Lucy to woodland at the outdoor Southampton Sports Centre on July 25 last year where he stabbed her 27 times in the neck and upper body.

He carried out the "premeditated" murder to silence the teen, who had threatened to reveal his year-long sexual abuse of her while living as a lodger in her family home.

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The care worker showed no emotion as he was sentenced, was also given 17-year concurrent prison sentences for each of the rape charges.

He was also jailed for nine months to run concurrently for the offence of sexual activity with a child in relation to another girl aged 14 in 2012.

Lucy McHugh's mother Stacey White at court, where Stephen Nicholson was jailed for life for the murder and rape of 13-year-old Lucy McHugh (Picture: PA)

Nicholson was linked to the murder through DNA evidence from both him and Lucy found on clothing discarded in woodland about a mile from the murder scene.

He also tried to cover his tracks by inflicting wounds on Lucy that could be interpreted as self-inflicted and also posed in different clothing on CCTV at a Tesco Express store.

Detective Superintendent Paul Barton, of Hampshire Police, said: "I would describe Nicholson as cold and calculated, I would describe him as a paedophile and I think he is someone who only thinks about himself and has taken full advantage of this family that have looked after him, provided a roof over his head yet with his sexual appetite.

"He has targeted Lucy, taken advantage of her and when she wanted a relationship with him, he has taken the decision to silence her once and for all by brutally killing her."

Prosecutor William Mousley QC told the court that Nicholson had been jailed in 2010 for two years for holding staff and youngsters at a children's home hostage at knifepoint.

He said Nicholson was given a further year's detention when he barricaded himself into the prison canteen at a young offender's institute with three other inmates and ‘tried to stab a staff member’.

The 25-year-old was also jailed in August 2018 for 14 months for refusing to reveal his Facebook password to police investigating Lucy's murder.

The investigation into Lucy's death, described by the CPS as "one of the largest in criminal history", was hampered when Nicholson refused to give police his Facebook password.

Prosecutors gained access by applying through the US courts but only received a log of his Facebook contacts with Lucy and not the content of any messages.

Mr Mousley described Lucy as "vulnerable" because of her age and because she had been diagnosed as having ADHD.

A serious case review has been launched to probe the handling of Lucy's case by Southampton City Council's social services after they were alerted twice by her schools about her relationship with the defendant but took no action.

The judge said: "The question is how social services could have arrived at that conclusion not once but twice given what Lucy had told friends and what Nicholson has been convicted of."

James Newton-Price QC, defending Nicholson, said he had a difficult background and had been sent to a children's home at the age of 13/14.

"He is, at 25, a relatively young man, he has a young son, he will have to serve a long time in custody,” he said.

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