A DETECTIVE at the centre of a probe into the murder of a Southampton schoolgirl has labelled her killer as a "brutal murderer and a paedophile".

Detective Superintendent Paul Barton spoke after Stephen Nicholson was found guilty of the murder of Lucy McHugh.

Nicholson, pictured below, was also found guilty, by a majority decision, of three counts of rape against Lucy.

He was also found guilty of one count of sexual activity with a child - a different girl who was 14 at the time.

The verdicts come after Lucy's body was found in a wooded area of Southampton Sports Centre on July 26 last year.

Det Supt Barton, who was the detective in charge of investigating her death, said: "This investigation was one of the largest investigations Hampshire Constabulary has ever undertaken and I'm really proud to get justice for Lucy and her family.

Daily Echo: Lucy McHugh

"The community were in absolute fear this time last year after the brutal murder of Lucy, in the grounds of the Southampton Sports Centre.

"I'm really proud of my investigators and staff who have done a fantastic job of pulling all of the evidence together to show Stephen Nicholson was not only a brutal murderer but also a paedophile."

His comments come after a jury found Nicholson guilty of Lucy's murder, following a trial at Winchester Crown Court.

Nicholson had denied murder.

The court had previously heard how Nicholson had carried out an "execution-style killing" of Lucy after she threatened to expose their year-long "sexual relationship".

The discovery of Lucy's body, in a wooded area of Southampton Sports Centre on July 26, sparked what Hampshire Constabulary chiefs have described as the "biggest finger-tip search in UK policing history".

Members of the public also joined in to help the search, following a public-led appeal on Facebook.

Dept Supt Barton also paid tribute to the community, the media and those who helped in the search.

He said: "First of all it is an extremely tragic a 13-year-old lost her life in such brutal circumstances.

“But as can happen, it bought out the best in the community, who came to help and support our investigation and the search for evidence.

“It was fantastic teamwork from my police officers, police staff and others including the media and the community.

"I think we can now safely say that justice has been done."