THE man accused of killing schoolgirl Tia Sharp today admitted her murder on the fifth day of his trial at the Old Bailey.
Stuart Hazell, 37, dramatically changed his plea this morning and admitted murdering the 12-year-old in August last year.
Window cleaner Hazell hung his head in the dock as he changed his plea and jurors were asked to formally find him guilty.
Lord Carlile, representing Hazell, said his client wanted to make it known that "Tia's family have suffered enough and he did not want to put them through any further stages of this trial or this process".
Hazell, wearing a washed-out grey T-shirt, leaned forward as Lord Carlile asked for the charge to be put again.He clutched his hands in front of him and there was a slight pause when he was asked to plead.And then he said "guilty" as gasps from the public gallery rang around the oak-lined courtroom.
Tia’s father, Steve Carter, broke down in tears as Hazell changed his plea.
The development came after four days of graphic evidence during which Tia's mother, Natalie Sharp, frequently had to leave the courtroom, visibly distressed.
The prosecution case included a grotesque photograph of a girl alleged to be Tia after she died.
In the shot, a naked girl, whose face cannot be seen, is posed on all fours on a bed.
During the hunt for missing Tia, Hazell, a convicted drug dealer, denied abducting her, saying she was "like my own daughter".
At the time Hazell was the partner of Tia's grandmother Christine Sharp.
He said at the time: "My previous has got nothing to do with it. Everyone's got a shady past. Did I do anything to Tia? No I bloody didn't. I'd never think of that."
He described Tia as "a happy-go-lucky golden angel" and said there had been no problems at her "loving home" before she vanished.
Hazell said he and Tia had been alone at the home he shared with Christine in south London on the Thursday night and Friday morning when she disappeared.
On the Friday, he said, she left the house at 12.10pm, having previously told him she wanted to buy some new shoes.
She did not take her mobile phone, which was charging, or a travel card and had no bag when she left.
Hazell broke down as he spoke, supported by Tia's uncle David Sharp.
Both wore white "Find Tia" T-shirts and a large picture of the schoolgirl was pinned to the wall behind them.
Hazell said he felt people were "pointing the finger" at him because he had been the last person to see her.
Hazell said: "I know deep down in my heart that Tia walked out of my house.
"I know she was seen walking down the pathway, she made her way down that track. What happened after that. I don't know."
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In a victim impact statement read to the court, Tia's mother Natalie Sharp said: "I gave the ultimate trust to Stuart and there is so much that I want to ask him.
"Sometimes I feel pity, that I want to hurt him, but I can never hurt him like he has hurt me."
She said Tia was her grandmother's "mini-me" and "her life".
The court heard that Hazell had a number of previous convictions.
These included convictions for racially aggravated common assault in 2002, dealing cocaine in 2003 and possession of a machete in a public place in 2010, for which he was jailed for 12 months.
He also had convictions for burglary and theft.
The court adjourned until 2.05pm when mitigation will be heard.
Senior Investigating Officer DCI Nick Scola said: "The conviction today of Stuart Hazell for the murder of 12-year-old Tia Sharp in August 2012 will, I hope, bring some closure for her family who have seen justice served. However, Hazell's conviction will never bring Tia back and her family will have to live with her loss for the rest of their lives.
"Tia was murdered by a man who had gained the trust of Tia's family and who, on that day, was tasked with looking after her whilst her grandmother was at work. Hazell abused that position of trust by planning an assault on Tia that ultimately led to her murder.
"The evidence was overwhelming and clearly Hazell realised he had no choice but to plead guilty. However, he put Tia's family through a week of heart-breaking evidence in court and I wish for their sakes he had admitted his guilt sooner.
"Hazell is an extremely dangerous individual who poses a significant threat to young girls and it is only right that he should be imprisoned and removed from society so that he can no longer pose any risk.
"I would like to pay tribute to Tia's family for showing such courage and stamina throughout this horrendous ordeal - from the time of the murder through to the conviction - and I truly hope they can move forward with their lives in the knowledge that Hazell will now pay for his crime."
In mitigation, Lord Carlile QC told the court that Hazell had not wanted to cause any more suffering to Tia's family by continuing with the trial, and so changed his plea as "an act of remorse", in the "bravest decision" he had made.
He said he was not trying to "make excuses" and told the court: "There is no greater loss that can occur to a family than the loss of a child who is just about to enter her prime."
Lord Carlile went on: "He did not embark to kill for sexual or sadistic motivation.
"Of course he accepts that whatever happened that night he killed her with the requisite intention to justify a conviction for murder."
He said that there was not enough evidence to prove that Hazell had committed "very serious sexual misconduct".
The 37-year-old did not groom Tia, Lord Carlile said, and any sexual activity took place "very near to the end of Tia's life".
He said: "One of the sad things about this case is that he probably did love Tia and certainly did love, and as we are instructed loves, Christine and he will have to bear for the rest of his life what he has done to the woman who is probably the only person in his life that he has really loved in a way that most people would understand that term would apply to."
Hazell went into care at a young age when his father was in prison and his mother was working as a prostitute. His first conviction came when he was 14, and he claimed he was raped aged 16 in a hostel.
Mr Justice Nicol said he will sentence Hazell tomorrow morning.