The tattoo artist accused of murdering schoolgirl Lucy McHugh said today that the girl’s stepfather confessed her death was his fault after her body was discovered.
Stephen Nicholson, 25, told a court that Richard Elmes, 22, phoned him distraught after it was confirmed police had found 13-year-old Lucy’s body in secluded woods.
He said today that Mr Elmes sobbed and confessed her death was ‘all my fault’ in the hours after her body was found in Southampton, saying ‘it will come back on me’.
Describing a two-minute call made through Facebook Messenger at about 3.30pm on July 25 last year, Nicholson told Winchester Crown Court: ‘Richard was crying.
Stephen Nicholson (left) is on trial for the murder of Lucy McHugh (right) in Winchester
‘He said that a body that was found had been confirmed as being Lucy. He said ‘it’s all my fault’ and that everything that had happened over the past few months will come back on to him.
‘I said ‘what are you going on about, you’re confusing me, I’m lost’ and he said ‘don’t worry, I am just being silly’ and then he hung up.’
The court heard Nicholson went to a small stream on July 25, in the hours after the girl’s death, to dump bloodstained clothing covered in his and Lucy’s DNA.
It has been heard a blue hoodie with blood on, a number of blue plastic gloves, tracksuit bottoms and the waistband of a pair of boxers were all found by police with DNA links to both Nicholson and Lucy more than a month after her death.
Lucy’s stepfather Richard Elmes is pictured outside Winchester Crown Court on July 1
However, Nicholson today said that while he had gone to the stream in Southampton, known as Tanners Brook, he was not hiding any clothing.
Instead, he said he was completing a secret cannabis deal.
Nicholson also told the court that at the time he is alleged to have stabbed her to death he was not at the sports centre, where Lucy was found dead, but at the home of a friend nearby.
He said: ‘I spent some time on my phone [on the morning of July 25] and [he and his elderly friend] had been talking. He was looking through the paper at the horses.
‘I had taken out some bags of rubbish and had done some cleaning up. There’s a lot of tidying to do at his. We talked about all sorts of stuff [throughout the morning], his health and what has been happening, he asks about me.
‘I went through Tanners Brook because I was selling cannabis to a male. I believe we arranged it through Snapchat that day or the night before. I don’t remember who it was, it was not a regular client.
‘I think it was a £20 deal, although it may have been a £10 deal. The only thing I did was sell a bag of weed and smoke a cigarette.’
Nicholson also admitted today he liked ‘soft choking’, involving applying pressure to the sides of the neck, during sex, with two former partners having told the court about his interest in it.
And he told jurors he has a piercing in his genitals, which he has joked about with friends and on Facebook.
CCTV of Nicholson on July 25, 2018 – the day on which he is accused of stabbing Lucy to death
The court today heard Nicholson had simply changed his phone handset from a Samsung to a Motorola device after Lucy’s death, because he was worried police would discover who he bought cannabis from.
He said he left the £900 Samsung at his mother’s house, telling her if the police came for it she was to ‘throw it in the bin’. The phone was found months later in a work locker belonging to his brother at an Ikea store in Southampton.
When asked by his barrister, James Newton-Price QC, why there was no evidence of drug dealing found by police, Nicholson said: ‘When I switched over my phone, I deleted as much as I could.’
Finishing his questioning of his client, Mr Newton-Price asked if he had ever had a sexual relationship with Lucy or killed her, to which Nicholson replied: ‘No.’
Earlier today, Nicholas – who has been accused of murdering Lucy after she told him she was pregnant – told the court claims he sexually abused the child were ‘nonsense’.
Nicholson said the 13-year-old’s mother Stacey told him that Lucy had been talking about him at school, but that social services had dealt with the matter.
The 25-year-old told jurors Lucy had been obsessed with him, following him around the house, taking his clothes and other possessions and writing notes about him.
However, Nicholson said in court that he had never seen any of these notes, one of which allegedly mentioned how much Lucy liked his beard.
A pair of burnt red underpants discovered at Tanner’s Brook in Southampton, near to the body of McHugh, which were shown to the jury at Winchester Crown Court during the trial
Prosecutors allege Nicholson lured Lucy to secluded woodland on July 25, last year, where he stabbed her to death in a frenzied attack, inflicting almost 30 wounds.
He then allegedly fled the scene at the outdoor sports centre in Southampton, leaving Lucy to die from three ‘very dangerous’ cuts to the carotid artery in her neck.
Jurors were told Nicholson and Lucy had a blazing row just two days before her murder, during which she warned him she had a ‘hold on him’.
Then on the night before her death, he told police she had sent him a message on Facebook claiming she was pregnant, although she was not, and would tell people it was his baby if he did not meet her.
Prosecutor William Mousley QC has told the trial Nicholson started having sex with Lucy when she was just 12, with her writing diary entries and letters about it.
Giving evidence today at Winchester Crown Court, Nicholson denied murdering the youngster, who he claimed was obsessed with him.
Talking about Lucy, the tattoo artist said: ‘We didn’t see eye to eye. She would follow me around the house, always getting in my way.
‘She would get involved in stuff that had nothing to do with her or that she was too young to be involved with.
‘I would get up early in the morning for work, she would get up and follow me around. When I was sitting on the stairs having a smoke, she would come and sit right next to me, up against me.
‘This was from 5am onwards. I started telling Stacey [White] and Richard [Elmes, Stacey’s partner], sometimes I would be quite rude to Lucy and tell her to go away.
‘Sometimes I would just slam doors to wake up Stacey so they would sort her out. It went on for ages.
Police officers speak to neighbours as they search the family home in Southampton last year
‘I had been told something had been said [by Lucy] at school and that my name had been brought up. What was said though I don’t know.
‘Stacey said she had had numerous calls with social services and my name had come up, but that everything had been sorted.’
When asked about the allegations against him, Nicholson said: ‘It’s nonsense.’
The trial has heard Nicholson sent an angry text message to 31-year-old Ms White complaining about the schoolgirl being ‘stalkerish’.
In the text, sent in May last year, Nicholson wrote: ‘Every time I come out my bedroom or the toilet your daughter tries to grab me. When I tell her to piss off she tries to push me down the stairs.
‘Next time she does, I am going to throw her down them. Next time she puts her hand over my mouth because I have told her to f*** off, I am going down to her school and paying a group of girls to beat her up.’
During his evidence today, Nicholson was asked by his barrister James Newton-Price QC about possessions of his that had gone missing while living with Lucy and her family.
Nicholson told jurors: ‘There was clothes, portable chargers that I used for work. Silly things.
‘I used to put my wallet in the kitchen draw at times and I had some money go missing. There was t-shirts, jumpers, jogging trousers, normal trousers go missing.
‘Stacey found some of my clothes in Lucy’s room.’
Reptile-lover Nicholson told jurors he had kept tarantulas, a gecko, pythons and a even a 9ft-long Boa Constrictor at the house he shared with Lucy and her family at various times during the year he lived there.
Nicholson is also charged with having sex with another underage girl, who was 14 when he gave her a tattoo and then arranged to go to woodland with her, close to where he allegedly killed Lucy.
Today he denied having sex with her, telling jurors he had only ever met her once, when he tattooed her. He added he had been fined for providing an underage girl with a tattoo, after her mother found out and reported him to police.
A pair of blue surgical gloves found at Tanner’s Brook, near to the body of schoolgirl Lucy
The court today heard prosecutors had ‘reviewed’ the case heard so far in court and decided there was ‘insufficient evidence’ for one of the charges of sexual activity with Lucy when she turned 13.
Instructing the jury to find him not guilty of the charge, judge Mrs Justice May said: ‘It is absolutely standard at the end of the prosecution case for the Crown to review the evidence there has been.
‘Following that review, the Crown has determined there is insufficient evidence to support the charge at count six on the indictment for this case.
‘That being the case, I must now direct you to return a formal verdict of not guilty on that count.’
Nicholson also told the court Lucy was simply trying to ’cause trouble’ when she told him she was pregnant the night before he is alleged to have killed her.
The court heard Lucy sent messages to Nicholson on Facebook Messenger late on July 24 last year, telling him if he did not meet her she would tell her mum he’d got her pregnant.
Giving evidence today, Nicholson admitted he deleted messages between the pair and said he blocked her saying her claims were ‘nonsense’.
It was heard Lucy began contacting Nicholson’s Facebook accounts around 6pm the day before her death, sending the messages just before midnight.
Nicholson is appearing on trial for murder at Winchester Crown Court in Hampshire
Nicholson told jurors: ‘I received a message from Lucy saying she was going to tell her mum she was pregnant and I had done it if I didn’t meet her at Mansel Park, which was over the road from where my mum and Stacey and Richard lived.
‘[Lucy] was just making stuff up, trying to cause trouble. It was nonsense.
‘There was no reason for her to be saying it. From my memory, I wrote something back like ‘yeah, whatever’. I ended up deleting [the messages] and blocking her. I just thought it was Lucy trying to cause trouble.’
Nicholson conceded that Lucy had warned him she had a ‘hold on him’ days before her murder, but claimed it related to him dealing cannabis.
The 25-year-old said he had started to move out of the home he shared with Lucy, her mother Stacey and stepfather Richard Elmes days before the row.
When he returned to the home on July 22 last year – three days before Lucy’s death – to check on his reptiles, Nicholson today admitted the pair argued.
Asked by his barrister if Lucy had told him she had a ‘hold on him’ he agreed she had, but added: ‘It was referring to the cannabis.
‘I have used it for years and I sold a lot to people. In a week, I would sell more than £500 worth through Facebook, Snapchat, texts, phone calls.
‘There was an occasion where the tub I kept it in was out on the side. Lucy was saying she had found the cannabis and she probably said she was going to tell her mum.’
Nicholson, of Southampton, denies murdering Lucy, also from the city, and three charges of raping her when she was 12.
He also denies one count of sexual activity with her when she was 13 and a further count of the same charge relating to another victim, who was 14 at the time, in 2012.
The trial continues.
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