JURORS in the trial of a man accused of murdering Southampton schoolgirl Lucy McHugh are set to begin their deliberations today.

Jury members will be sent out this morning to decide their verdict in the case of Stephen Nicholson.

He is on trial following the death of the 13-year-old, whose body was found in a wooded area of Southampton Sports Centre on July 26 last year.

The 25-year-old, of no fixed address, denies murder.

He also denies three counts of rape against Lucy when she was 12, sexual activity with her when she was 13 and denies sexual activity with a child in relation to another girl aged 14.

Daily Echo:

Yesterday, jury members in the trial at Winchester Crown Court heard the closing speech of Nicholson’s defence barrister, James Newton-Price QC.

He described Lucy’s death as a “shocking and dreadful event”, but urged jury members to make a “cool, rational and unemotional assessment of the evidence”.

He later told jury members that, in his submission, that parts of the prosecution’s evidence “did not quite fit the theory they have put forward”.

Mr Newton-Price told jury members that CCTV of a cyclist seen at Southampton Sports Centre on the morning of Lucy’s disappearance, July 25, was not Nicholson.

He reiterated that Nicholson denied knowing how a Tesco bag containing blood-stained clothing with DNA links to Lucy and Nicholson ended up dumped in Tanner’s Brook.

Mr Newton-Price also raised questions about the strength of DNA evidence found on a blue hoodie, found next to the bag.

Daily Echo:

He suggested notes and letters, written by Lucy and addressed to Nicholson, could be “the imagination or fantasy of an adolescent young woman”.

Mr Newton-Price also pointed to several claims made by Lucy to school friends, including having a tattoo and having had an abortion, as “classic teenage attention-seeking”.

He rejected the prosecution’s case that Nicholson had killed Lucy to “silence her” after she had messaged him to say she was pregnant.

He added: “Really, she had been saying that kind of thing to anyone who would listen to her for months. It was nothing new Lucy saying these things.”

Prosecutor William Mousley QC previously told the court Nicholson is accused of killing Lucy after she told him she was pregnant.

He said the defendant, who had been living in Lucy mother’s home as a lodger, had been exploiting the vulnerable teenager during a secret year-long sexual relationship.