A paedophile who killed a 13-year-old girl to stop her from revealing the abuse she had suffered has jailed for life to serve a minimum of 33 years.
Stephen Nicholson, 25, stabbed Lucy McHugh 27 times in an ‘execution style’ killing because he feared she would expose him.
He first raped Lucy, then 12, while living at her family home in Southampton, and abused her repeatedly before murdering her in July last year.
Jurors at Winchester Crown Court found him guilty of three charges of raping Lucy. Nicholson, who has the word ‘freedom’ tattooed across his forehead, remained stony-faced as a jury convicted him of murder and the three rape charges.
Care worker Stephen Nicholson lured schoolgirl Lucy McHugh to woodland near her home in Southampton before stabbing her almost 30 times. The killer is pictured right on CCTV, carrying a Tesco bag on the day of Lucy’s death
Lucy McHugh (pictured) was murdered ‘execution-style’ by Stephen Nicholson as he feared she would expose his sadistic abuse
The jury of seven men and five women also found him guilty of persuading a 14-year-old girl to have sex with him in 2012 as ‘part payment’ for a tattoo. The crime took place in the same woods where Lucy was murdered.
Police immediately pointed the finger at Nicholson after Lucy’s body was found with 27 stab wounds in secluded woodland at Southampton Sports Centre on July 26 last year.
Detectives believe Nicholson, who took a number of rudimentary steps to try to cover his tracks, may have tried to disguise the murder as suicide.
Having moved out of Lucy’s home only days earlier, the killer launched the ‘controlled and repetitive’ attack in a bid to silence the schoolgirl, who had incorrectly told him she was pregnant.
Prosecutor William Mousley told the trial: ‘The cat was going to be let out of the bag.’ Nicholson had been offered a bed in Lucy’s home by her ‘stepfather’ Richard Elmes, 22, who was his childhood friend.
Also living in the property was Lucy’s care worker mother Stacey White, 31, who brought up Lucy and her 12-year-old brother Dylan after the breakdown of her relationship with Andy McHugh, 37.
Lucy’s father Andy McHugh (left) described how the murder had left him facing ‘an emptiness that will never be filled’. The victim’s mother Stacey White (right) brought up Lucy and her 12-year-old brother Dylan after the breakdown of her relationship with Mr McHugh
While at the house, Nicholson sold cannabis and kept pets including tarantulas, a gecko, pythons and a boa constrictor.
His abuse was detailed in distressing diary entries and letters written by Lucy that were discovered only after her death In one note entitled ‘abuse’, Lucy wrote that he would ‘make me… rape me anyway’ before detailing how she was forced to lock herself in the bathroom to avoid sex.
Other entries in the diary described how Nicholson, who spent several of his teenage years in a youth prison for holding somebody at knifepoint, choked her during sex.
At the time of the abuse, the ‘vulnerable’ schoolgirl was receiving mental health care and had also been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Southampton City Council had launched an urgent serious incident review after teachers were warned Lucy had a ‘boyfriend’ ten years older than her.
But social services dropped their inquiries after Lucy’s mother insisted she was not in danger.
The court has heard Lucy suffered almost 30 knife wounds in a brutal, frenzied attack, with three ‘very dangerous’ cuts to the carotid artery in her neck which caused her death
Stephen Nicholson repeatedly stabbed 13-year-old Lucy to the neck and upper body at Southampton Sports Centre before leaving her to die in July last year
Emma Wright, an assistant head at St Anne’s Catholic girls school, had contacted them in June 2017. When Lucy moved to Redbridge Community School in year eight, teachers made a further referral to social services.
A schoolfriend’s mother then raised concerns but Lucy’s own mother allegedly claimed her daughter was living in a ‘fantasy land’ and simply had a ‘crush’.
Police eventually found a bag of Lucy’s bloodied clothing containing Nicholson’s DNA beside a stream a mile from the murder scene.
Nicholson has now been exposed as a ‘cold and calculated paedophile’ who pursued a string of underage victims.
Police suspect he used his skills as a tattoo artist and his access to cannabis to lure and groom other young victims.
Last night, Lucy’s grieving family questioned why social workers did not spot she was in grave danger despite the repeated warnings being raised up to a year before her death.
CCTV footage of the 13-year-old’s final movements which showed Lucy, wearing leggings and a white top, walking from her home in the direction of the sports centre as she was lured to her death at 9am on July 25, 2018
Lucy’s paternal grandfather Keith McHugh, 65, said the failure to investigate caused the family ‘a lot’ of concern.
He added: ‘The school did their bit [by flagging the case] but social services did not do their bit.’
Speaking outside court, Lucy’s father, Andy McHugh, said: ‘He stole her life away. I’m very happy with the verdict.’
Detective Superintendent Paul Barton said: ‘I would describe Nicholson as cold and calculated. I would describe him as a paedophile. 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.’