Lucy McHugh murder trial hears school raised safeguarding fears

Steven Morris
Photograph: Hampshire police/PA

A school contacted social services to express concern about the relationship between Lucy McHugh and the man accused of murdering her but no action was taken, a court has been told.

The school’s safeguarding lead was worried that men including Stephen Nicholson, her alleged killer, had unsupervised access to the vulnerable teenager, Winchester crown court heard.

Nicholson, 25, a carer and tattooist, is alleged to have fatally stabbed Lucy, 13, in July last year after sexually abusing her for months while a lodger at the family home in Southampton.

Emma Wright, an assistant headteacher and safeguarding lead at St Anne’s Catholic school in Southampton, told the court that in June 2017 Lucy was taken out of class for using her phone. “She told me she was using her phone to Snapchat someone called Stephen,” Wright said.

On another occasion, Wright said, Lucy told her that in the evening she was at home with Nicholson, his brother and her mother’s partner, Richard Elmes.

Wright said she decided to contact the multi-agency safeguarding hub, explaining: “I thought there were a lot of men with access to her without mum in the house.”

Wright said she spoke to Lucy’s mother, Stacey White. “Mum didn’t seem surprised. Mum told me she tracks all of Lucy’s messages and mum seemed unconcerned. Mum was quite confrontational, was very cross. She was very, very unhappy that we had contacted social services about Stephen,” she said.

“I spoke to social services the next day and they said mum had been very unhappy with them. They said it was a long conversation with mum. Social services said no further action at that time.”

Jennie Boorman, head of year 7 at St Anne’s, told the court a group of excited girls had reported to her that Lucy had an older boyfriend.

She said Lucy had confirmed this, adding: “She was quite happy to have this boyfriend. He was living at her house. He was mummy’s friend. He was sleeping on the sofa. She liked the fact he had snakes [as pets] and he was doing tattoos in the house, and she would watch him tattoo people for cash.

“I felt I had to escalate it because she was at home alone with Stephen. He would babysit when mummy was at work.”

Boorman said that when spoke to Lucy’s mother, White was “quite exasperated” and denied Nicholson was her daughter’s boyfriend or that she was left alone with him.

Nicola Franklin-Allen, a teacher at Redbridge community school, to where Lucy moved in September 2017, said the issue of Lucy possibly having a relationship with Nicholson was also raised with her.

She said Lucy denied having sex with him, and White told her Lucy was not left alone with Nicholson and that she had a habit of making up stories.

The court heard that Nicholson allegedly sold cannabis from Lucy’s home. Elmes said friends would come to the house to buy from him.

Elmes said Nicholson had been “volatile” a few days before Lucy’s body was found, which had led to him being asked to leave.

Elmes also said he had had arguments with the teenager and admitted he had sent a message to White saying: “I’m going to end up punching Lucy.” White replied: “If you punch a child you will end up in jail, so is it worth it, seriously?”

Nicholson is charged with Lucy’s murder and three counts of raping her when she was 12. He also faces two charges of sexual activity with a child on multiple occasions when Lucy was 13.

He is also charged with sexual activity with a child in relation to another girl, aged 14, in June 2012. The defendant denies the charges and the trial continues.