Tattoo artist, 25, GUILTY of raping and murdering Lucy McHugh

Tattoo artist, 25, is found GUILTY of raping and murdering schoolgirl Lucy McHugh, 13, in ‘execution-style’ killing by stabbing her 27 times to ‘shut her up’ after she threatened to expose him as a paedophile

  • Stephen Nicholson lured Lucy McHugh to woods, stabbing her nearly 30 times
  • The 25-year-old had been taken in by Lucy’s family as a lodger at their home 
  • Sexual relationship started when Lucy was 12 and she claimed she was pregnant
  • He killed Lucy when she threatened to blow the whistle on their relationship 
  • Nicholson has today been found guilty of raping and murdering the 13-year-old 

Lucy McHugh, 13, was lured to her death by Stephen Nicholson who has today been found guilty of murder

A lodger who was taken in by a family before having a sexual affair with their 13-year-old daughter has today been found guilty of her ‘execution-style’ murder after she claimed she was pregnant with his child. 

‘Cold and calculated predatory paedophile’ Stephen Nicholson lured Lucy McHugh to woodland near her home in Southampton before stabbing her almost 30 times then dumping her body. 

The 25-year-old tattoo artist and care worker had exploited the ‘vulnerable’ teenager for more than a year. 

Cannabis-smoking Nicholson grew increasingly nervous after Lucy confessed her love to him. 

He became concerned when their secret relationship – which begun when Lucy was just 12 – would be revealed and he would be exposed as a paedophile, so hatched a sickening plan to kill the teenager.  

Just hours after murdering Lucy on July 25 last year, Nicholson then texted her mother telling her to ‘keep her chin up and stay positive,’ adding, ‘I’m sure they’ll find her soon.’ 

Little did Lucy’s mother know the man she had let into her home had been exploiting her teenage daughter, forcing his way into her bedroom and making her have ‘rough sex’. 

Lucy had tried to tell her mother about her relationship with Nicholson but she was dismissed and told to ‘get back to her fantasy land.’ 

In harrowing diary entries, Lucy described how Nicholson took her virginity after the pair played a video game together at her home, and detailed how she locked herself in the bathroom to avoid having sex with him.  

Throughout his trial Nicholson had even tried to blame Lucy’s parents for killing her. 

It can also be revealed today how detectives investigating the brutal and frenzied murder only received data from social media giant Facebook the day her killer’s trial was due to start.

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 filled with blood stained clothes 

Stacey White, mother of Lucy McHugh, arrives at Winchester Crown Court today

Left, Richard Elmes, the stepfather of Lucy McHugh, leaving Winchester Crown Court yesterday and right, her father Andy McHugh outside court today 

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 

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

‘He’ll rape me anyway’: Harrowing diary entry reveals how Lucy feared twisted killer 

In sections of her diary, which were read to the jury, Lucy described how Nicholson took her virginity after the pair played a video game together at her home.

A diary entry from May 2017 describes how Nicholson paused the Call of Duty video game before pushing himself on top of her.

‘We started kissing,’ she wrote. ‘He said ‘I knew you liked me’. He said ‘do you want to do this?’ I nodded [and] he said ‘are you sure?’ and I nodded again.

‘He said ‘are you a virgin?’ I said yes. I kept thinking why wouldn’t I be, I am not a w***e.’   

Other disturbing notes discovered by Lucy’s parents after her death revealed the extent of the alleged ordeal the schoolgirl was exposed to.

In a heartbreaking note entitled ‘abuse’, she wrote that he would ‘make me….rape me anyway’ and she also described how she was forced to lock herself in the bathroom of her home in Southampton, to avoid sex with him.

Describing one alleged incident, Lucy wrote: ‘I put my hand behind his neck, but he grabbed my neck tightly. It was sort of breathable.’

And in another entry, she wrote: ‘He grabbed my neck tightly. It kind of hurt this time. I told him and he said ‘good’.’

Investigating officer Detective Inspector Lee McArthur today read a statement from Lucy’s heartbroken mother outside court. 

In the statement, Stacey White said: ‘I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart our close family and friends for their support during this harrowing time. 

‘The dedication of Hampshire Constabulary, the specialist teams across the country and the local community helped get justice for my precious daughter Lucy.’ 

Lucy’s body was discovered by a dog walker on July 26 last year, less than 24 hours after vanishing from her home.

Internet searches from Nicholson’s Samsung device also show he had searched ‘what time is good to start a bonfire’ before destroying the trainers he had been wearing at the time of Lucy’s death. 

Prosecutor William Mousley QC today told jurors the case against Nicholson was ‘compelling’ and the only obvious verdict was that he was guilty of the vicious murder and of having sex with the youngster. 

The prosecutor dismissed Nicholson’s evidence during the four-week trial on the basis it ‘reminded me of an old blues song’ called Born Under A Bad Sign, in which singer Albert King describes having terrible luck from birth.

After killing the schoolgirl, Nicholson fled the scene, changing out of bloodstained clothes and dumping it in a small stream on the journey back to his home. 

Internet searches from Nicholson’s Samsung device show he had searched ‘what time is good to start a bonfire’ before destroying the trainers he had been wearing at the time of Lucy’s 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 

Detectives only received data from Facebook the day killer’s trial was due to start

Vital evidence locked in Stephen Nicholson’s Facebook account may have been lost because of delays in giving detectives access.

Detectives were hampered in uncovering communications between the defendant and Lucy by rules set by Facebook and US laws on providing access to accounts.

In the days after Lucy’s death, Nicholson confessed to police he had been in contact with her on the social media company’s Messenger service in the hours before she died. 

However, when asked to hand over his password he refused, claiming he was concerned about messages relating to his dealing and use of cannabis. 

Despite a court order being issued, Nicholson ended up being jailed for 14 months for continuing to deny officers access to his Facebook account. 

On what was meant to be the opening day of the four-week trial prosecutor William Mousley QC revealed Facebook had only just supplied them with data from Lucy and Nicholson’s accounts. 

But after spending a day pouring over the information, it was discovered messages care worker Nicholson claimed had been sent between him and Lucy were no longer there. 

Detective Chief Inspector Dave Storey said he had been left with a ‘number of questions’ after the data was received. H

e added: ‘As an investigator, I have things I would like to know, like ‘when things were deleted, what they were’, but that would have been more important if we did not have forensic evidence. It has been frustrating.’ 

During the trial, Mr Mousley told jurors Nicholson had claimed, during police interviews, that Lucy contacted him on Facebook messenger the night before her death. 

He told detectives she was claiming she was pregnant and was going to tell her mother if he did not meet up with her. 

He added she contacted him again the next morning to tell him she was getting dressed to go out. However, when the data was received there were no messages between the pair relating to the conversations he had admitted having, with Mr Mousley telling jurors Nicholson must have deleted them. 

Speaking after the case, the Hampshire police Detective Superintendent Paul Barton revealed media coverage of the case had led to Facebook making contact with them about the data.  

Crown Prosecution Service senior prosecutor John Montague added: ‘It is a protracted process, but the other side is that they cannot give out information willy nilly.’   

In a text sent to Ms White, 31, Nicholson said: ‘I hope they find her safe. Police are good at their job and they will find her soon. 

‘Keep your chin up and stay positive.’ 

Despite admitting in court the clothing found in the stream, known as Tanners Brook, was his, he said he had ‘no idea’ how it got there, but added others including Lucy’s mother Stacey White and stepfather Richard Elmes both had access to them.  

Nicholson was today described as a ‘cold and calculated predatory paedophile’ who preyed on vulnerable girls to satisfy his sexual appetite, according to the detective in charge of bringing him to justice. 

Detective Superintendent Paul Barton, of Hampshire Police, said Nicholson had exploited Lucy’s family who had taken him in as a lodger when he had nowhere else to live and used their hospitality to target the 13-year-old for sex.

He said: ‘I would describe him 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.

‘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.’

Mr Barton said he believes the murder of the 13-year-old was premeditated as Nicholson had taken steps including ordering new trainers in advance, showing himself in different clothing on CCTV at a Tesco Express and by luring Lucy to the sports centre despite not being on talking terms with her.

He said: ‘There are a lot of signs which would suggest that Nicholson had been planning this, maybe only for just a few days.

‘All these things indicate to me that he knew exactly what he was doing, which makes this even more vicious.’

Mr Barton said Nicholson might have attempted to cover his tracks by inflicting wounds on Lucy that could have been interpreted as having been self-inflicted.

He said: ‘He probably knew that Lucy was vulnerable and there is the suggestion that vulnerable children try to self-harm to get attention, so he may well have been doing that.’

Mr Barton said Nicholson could have been using his second job as a tattoo artist to target underage girls.

The defendant was also convicted of sexual activity with a 14-year-old girl in 2012 who had contacted him to have a tattoo, and another girl described how he groped her upper thigh while giving her a tattoo.

Mr Barton said: ‘This investigation has uncovered that he has an unhealthy interest in young girls aged under 16. 

‘We heard of his tattoo business where he has tattooed young children and it has been established he has had sexual relations with Lucy and another girl who was underage.

‘He’s a predatory paedophile who took those opportunities when he identified vulnerabilities with young girls and took that to the next level by sexually abusing them.’

Forensic scientist Jessica Adby said Lucy’s and Nicholson’s DNA was found on the blue Russell Athletic hoodie, pictured, which was found one mile away from where the teenager’s body was

A pair of blue surgical gloves found at Tanner’s Brook, near the body of schoolgirl Lucy

‘He’s getting violent, he’s slapping me’: Friend reveals killer became ‘increasingly violent’ towards terrified Lucy 

Lucy had told a friend she was in love with Nicholson. 

The school friend, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told Winchester Crown Court Lucy had confided in her that the defendant was becoming increasingly violent towards her including slapping her and trying to force his way into her bedroom. 

The friend said Lucy told her that Nicholson was her boyfriend in October 2017, when she was aged 12.

The girl said in a police interview shown to the court: ‘She started telling me she was with a 24/23-year-old called Stephen.

‘I asked if them two had done anything because I was really worried. She told me he took her virginity but when she told me she looked uncomfortable and scared.’

The girl said she told her mother, who contacted Ms White, who rejected the claims as ‘fantasies’ and said they had already been looked into by social services.

The friend said Lucy described the situation with Nicholson as getting worse in the following months and that she was being treated badly by her mother and her partner.

She said Nicholson was becoming increasingly violent including attempting to force his way into her bedroom.

The girl said: ‘Two weeks before she died she told me that Stephen was slapping her and getting more and more worse.’

She added that Lucy told her: ‘His weed-smoking was getting worse, he was trying to touch her, ‘He’s getting violent, he’s slapping me’.’

The girl said Nicholson became possessive over another boyfriend Lucy had and added that the defendant said ‘he would try to bash his head in’.

She said she advised Lucy to move out of the house to live with her grandparents.

‘She kept on saying she wanted to but she couldn’t. She kept telling me not to worry and she would sort it but I kept worrying about her because she kept not looking right and not acting like she used to.’

John Montague, senior prosecutor for the CPS in Wessex, said Nicholson killed Lucy to prevent her telling people they had a sexual relationship and claims she made that she was pregnant with his child.

He said: ‘The motive is that she was in a relationship with him and had been for a significant period of time and he had to shut her up in one way, and that’s the only way he thought he could do that and he stabbed her round the throat.

‘The post-mortem indication was she wasn’t pregnant, I do not know what she was thinking at that particular time, perhaps she had missed her period, she had told a number of people she was pregnant at that time with his child.

‘She was a child abused by Nicholson for a significant period of time. In my mind the sexual element is clear from the evidence I reviewed.’

He added the evidence collected against Nicholson was gained from ‘one of the biggest searches in criminal history’.

Mr Barton said the ‘major breakthrough’ came when Nicholson’s phone was identified as having entered an area of woodland called Tanner’s Brook on his way home on the day of Lucy’s death.

On the first day of searching the area, police found clothing that has been described as the defendant’s ‘murder kit’, comprising of a blue hoody and other clothing which had DNA links to both Nicholson and Lucy.

Mr Barton said: ‘Our case at that point was a strong circumstantial case but by having the DNA evidence, that was the final nail in the coffin for Nicholson.

‘This is one of the largest murder inquiries that Hampshire Police have seen over the years, we had hundreds of people working on this for many months, putting together a really comprehensive case which fortunately has seen Nicholson found guilty now.

‘At any one time about 200 officers at the height of the investigation, we had a large search team that was using additional resources from other police forces, we had additional investigators being brought in from other police forces, so it really was a huge investigation at a time when resourcing was a challenge for us over the last summer period.

‘CCTV was a massive line of inquiry for us, we had over 15,000 hours of footage that we needed to go through to try to identify Lucy, also Nicholson and any other witnesses.’

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Police officers speak to neighbours as they search the family home in Southampton last year

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