Care worker guilty of murder of schoolgirl jailed for life with a minimum of 33 years.
A lodger who raped and murdered a 13-year-old girl to stop her exposing him as an abuser has been jailed for life with a minimum of 33 years.
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”.
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.
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.
He 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.
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.
Care worker Stephen Nicholson has just been found GUILTY of raping and murdering Lucy McHugh after the 13-year-old told him she was pregnant with his child.
The 25-year-old repeatedly raped the schoolgirl, with whom he’d had groomed for sex, before stabbing her to death.
The trial heard how Nicholson had “an interest in under-age sex” and exploited the “vulnerable” youngster, who was found with stab wounds to her neck and upper body near Southampton Sports Centre last summer.
She had been slashed with a knife 27 times and died from “catastrophic bleeding” two miles from her home, with a blood-stained hoodie containing DNA from both Lucy and Nicholson found near her body.
Twenty stab wounds and seven sliced wounds were identified across her face, upper chest and forearms, caused by a single-bladed knife.
Nicholson had been a lodger at the home of Lucy, her mother Stacey White and stepfather Richard Elmes, who was his best friend, but denied he had been in a sexual relationship with the girl.
He told Winchester Crown Court that she was “stalkerish” and that he pushed her away because she followed him around, adding: “We didn’t get along… at the same time, I do not feel any child should be killed.”
Prosecutor William Mousley QC read a letter from Lucy found on 26 July last year, the day after she died, which was addressed to Nicholson.
It said: “I have missed my period for almost two months. To be honest I think I am pregnant.”
Nicholson, of no fixed address, was asked whether she was killed for asking for money and threatening to tell her mother she was pregnant, to which he replied he was “not interested”.
He later said: “I have never slept with anyone underage so I know I am not a paedophile.”
Lucy was said to have kept a diary which detailed her relationship with Nicholson, dating back to May 2017, which described how the two would make arrangements for sexual encounters.
One note said: “He grabbed my neck tightly and it sort of hurt this time and I told him and he said good.”
Nicholson admitted he “soft-choked” women, which involved squeezing their neck, during sex, but when asked if the diary entry sounded like “the sort of thing you have done with other females”, he said: “That sounds like assault.”
He added: “I have never had a sexual relationship with Lucy.”
But one of her friends told the court Lucy loved Nicholson and he had taken her virginity.
The girl said she told her mother, who contacted Ms White, who then rejected the claims as “fantasies” and said social services had already looked into the allegations.
She added that Nicholson became possessive over another boyfriend Lucy had, and that she urged Lucy to leave the house and live with her grandparents.
Mr Mousley said Nicholson claimed the diaries and allegations were the “fantasies of a 12/13-year-old girl”.
The carer and tattoo artist was staying with his mother at the time of the murder, but visited the home where Lucy lived on 23 July to feed his pet reptiles that he kept there and ended up in an argument with her.
Lucy was alleged to have been heard shouting at Nicholson.
She told him “this is all your fault” and “I have got a hold on you anyway”.
As well as a charge of murder, Nicholson was accused of three counts of rape against Lucy when she was 12, and of sexual activity with a child regarding multiple incidents when Lucy was 13.
He was also charged with sexual activity with a child in relation to a 14-year-old girl in 2012.
The victim on that occasion, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the court Nicholson led her to have sex in the same woodland where the body of Lucy was found.
They made contact about Nicholson giving her and a friend a tattoo, but the court heard how they became “flirtatious” and he asked her to meet up for sex.
When asked why she had met a stranger for sex, she said: “I was 14, I was stupid.”
Nicholson was originally arrested in connection with the death of Lucy last August, with police having issued appeals including photos and CCTV footage in the hope of finding the missing girl.
He was later jailed for refusing to give his Facebook password to police, which a judge told him had “caused a very significant delay” to the investigation into Lucy’s death.
Ms White has described her daughter as an “angel – who everyone adored and cherished”, while Mr Elmes – who had known Nicholson since he was six – said she was a “lovely, bubbly, bright, intelligent girl”.