Careworker was 'in a relationship' with 13-year-old girl whom he sexually assaulted and murdered in secluded woodland
24-year-old Stephen Nicholson was charged with murder, rape, and one count of sexual activity with a child under 16 in the death of Lucy McHugh
A 24-year-old care worker from Southampton has been charged in the rape and murder of 13-year-old Lucy McHugh, whose sudden disappearance this past July had sparked a frantic search by family, friends, and police. Father-of-one Stephen Nicholson had previously been arrested on suspicion of the murder and sexual assault of Lucy but had been released on bail before being apprehended again and formally charged this week.
According to the Daily Mail, Nicholson made his appearance before a district judge at Southampton Magistrates' Court on November 15 and was charged with murder, rape, and one count of sexual activity with a child under 16. The 24-year-old, who has tattoos on his neck and above his right eye, was snapped sporting a grey tracksuit and spoke just to confirm his name, date of birth, and nationality.
The hearing was reportedly brief but heard that Nicholson had previously had sex with another underage girl — believed to have been 14 at the time — six years ago at the same secluded woodland where Lucy was discovered stabbed to death. In relation to the incident, he was charged with a second count of sexual activity with a child under the age of 16. He was asked not to enter a plea for any of the alleged offenses.
Following Lucy's disappearance on July 25 earlier this year, her mother had pleaded with people on social media to help locate the 13-year-old. Her body was discovered the following day in a woodland at Southampton Sports Centre by a dog walker.
It emerged that Lucy had told an ex-neighbor she had an "older boyfriend," and police arrested Nicholson on suspicion of having committed the murder. However, they released him on bail and offered a £10,000 reward for information that might result in the apprehension of the culprit.
The Mail reported that detectives hunting for the teen's killer released CCTV footage of the 13-year-old walking "purposefully" past a Tesco just hours before she was stabbed to death, with students from her school going to the police with what information they had on the victim.
Investigators scoured through thousands of hours of footage to piece together Lucy's final movements, as well as searched the woodlands and bushes and emptied drains in an attempt to zero in on the murder weapon. Requests for information from Facebook were met with delayed responses before authorities once again tracked down and charged Nicholson in the crime.
Speaking at the hearing, prosecutor Sital Mond said, "The defendant was living with his friend, her partner, and children. The oldest child is the alleged victim. She goes missing and her body is later found. The second allegation of sexual activity happened in the same place where the body was found."
District Judge Lorraine Morgan ordered Nicholson be remanded into custody until November 19, when he is scheduled to appear at Winchester Crown Court for his next hearing.