Neighbour 'said he had seen Tia'
A neighbour of the grandmother of murdered schoolgirl Tia Sharp told police that he had seen her when she was already dead, a court has heard.
Bus driver Paul Meehan, 40, from Croydon, south London, is on trial charged with wasting police time. He was the neighbour of Christine Sharp, whose boyfriend Stuart Hazell was jailed in May for a minimum of 38 years for killing Tia, 12.
The court heard that Meehan initially told police he had not seen Tia on Friday August 3 last year, but later claimed he was "100% sure" he watched her walk past his home at around noon on that date.
Jocelyn Ledward, prosecuting, told the court: "He described her outfit and person in detail." She said this was "thereby in fact confirming Stuart Hazell's account of her having walked out of the door at that time".
Tia's mother, Natalie, sat in the public gallery at Croydon Magistrates' Court during the trial, which was set to last one day.
Miss Ledward said Meehan's claim had the result of "compounding the family's false hope" that she was still alive. It also led detectives to conduct "labour intensive interviews", she said. "These were a waste of valuable police resources at a crucial time."
But she told the court: "There is absolutely no suggestion Mr Meehan was in league with Stuart Hazell." She suggested that he made the report "perhaps in order to increase his importance in the investigation".
The court was read a statement given to police by Meehan, in which he claimed he saw Tia walk towards a bus stop while he was having a cigarette in his front garden. "From the time I saw Tia I didn't take my eyes off her," he told detectives. He said the reason for watching her was "a parental thing", but he did not attempt to talk to her as he thought she was wearing headphones, the court heard.
Meehan insisted that "nobody has forced me" to make the police statement, saying: "I have made it under my own free will." He added: "I think we're all willing and hoping to find Tia safe, more than anything else." After his arrest, Meehan told officers: "I definitely saw her leave the house. Whether she came back I don't know."
Meehan denies causing wasteful employment of the police by making a false report that he had information linked to an inquiry on August 6.