A 25-year-old man with ‘an interest in under-age sex’ exploited ‘vulnerable’ schoolgirl Lucy McHugh by having a sexual relationship with her for more than a year before he murdered her, a court has heard.
Carer Stephen Nicholson, of no fixed address, is accused of repeatedly stabbing the 13-year-old in the neck and upper body in woodland at Southampton Sports Centre, before leaving her to die.
The defendant, who is also a tattoo artist, is charged with murdering Lucy on July 25 last year as well as three counts of rape against her when she was 12.
He also faces two charges of sexual activity with a child against Lucy on multiple occasions when she was 13.
Nicholson is also charged with sexual activity with a child in relation to another girl aged 14, dated June 29 2012.
William Mousley QC, prosecuting, told Winchester Crown Court that there is a ‘compelling’ case against Nicholson.
He said: ‘This case concerns the vicious murder of Lucy McHugh, a 13-year-old girl, in woodland within the precincts of the outdoor Southampton Sports Centre.
‘She was repeatedly stabbed to the neck and upper body and she bled to death as a result.
‘The killer, who the prosecution alleges was Stephen Nicholson, then left her either dying or dead in a large area of woodland and made his escape.
‘It had clearly been the intention of her attacker to kill her; in other words, she had been murdered.’
Mr Mousley said the defendant ‘had an interest in under-age sexual activity’ and had a collection of knives.
He said Nicholson had been a lodger at the home Lucy shared with her mother, Stacey White, her mother's partner, Richard Elmes, and her siblings.
Mr Mousley said that, for more than a year, Nicholson had exploited Lucy, who he described as vulnerable, and had a sexual relationship with her.
He said: ‘It was clear to family members and visitors that there were problems between Stephen Nicholson and Lucy which led to arguments which got progressively worse in the lead-up to her death.
‘The cause was behaviour of Lucy towards Stephen Nicholson, wanting his attention by acting in various ways as if she had a crush on him and his apparent resistance to her.
‘However it emerged later, as the investigation continued, that there was another possible cause of the tension which was kept a secret from her immediate family and the authorities.
‘That concerned a sexual relationship which began in May 2017 and continued for more than a year between a 23- or 24-year-old man and a 12- to 13-year-old girl over a period the prosecution say she was vulnerable to that exploitation.’
Mr Mousley said that Nicholson, who was staying at his mother's house at the time after being asked to leave Lucy's home, visited his alleged victim's house on July 23 to feed his pet reptiles.
He said Nicholson ended up in an argument with Lucy, who was heard to shout at the defendant ‘This is all your fault’ and ‘I have got a hold on you anyway’.
Mr Mousley added that Nicholson told a friend that Lucy had let down his bike's tyres and stolen some money from him.
He said Lucy also told Mr Elmes that she had something to tell him and her mother but, by the time Ms White returned, the schoolgirl had gone to bed.
Mr Mousley said that, on the evening of July 24, Lucy created a second Facebook account and used it to communicate with the defendant that night and the following morning, the day of her death.
Lucy left her home in Mansel Road East, Southampton, Hampshire, at about 9am on July 25.
The jury was shown CCTV footage of Lucy walking to the sports centre where her body was found the next morning.
Nicholson denies the charges and the trial continues.