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A man has been convicted of the murder of ‘smiley and generous’ teenager Louise Smith from Leigh Park.
Louise, aged 16 years, was reported missing to police on Friday 8 May this year, before her body was discovered in an area of woodland at Havant Thicket 13 days later.
Winchester Crown Court heard how Louise was murdered at the Thicket by 30-year-old Shane Mays on the afternoon of 8 May, before he disposed of her phone and phone case nearby.
Following an extensive search of the area and an investigation by Hampshire Constabulary, Mays was arrested and charged with Louise’s murder.
Despite admitting responsibility for Louise’s death and entering a guilty plea to manslaughter, Mays denied murder and the case proceeded to trial on Monday 16 November.
During the trial, prosecutor James Newton-Price QC said: “8th May was the day of the VE Day anniversary. You may remember it as a public holiday that took place in the early weeks of lockdown, when we were encouraged to have some sort of socially-distanced street party with our neighbours.
“Louise disappeared some time after 12.49pm on that Friday. That was the time of the last outgoing contact from her phone. There is no known CCTV footage of her on that day.
“Louise did not come home that day or indeed ever again. There followed a major police investigation and sustained search over the next two weeks.”
The court heard that Mays lied to his family and the police about Louise’s disappearance, claiming that he had walked her to a skate park in Emsworth that day.
Ahead of the trial, he changed his story to say he had played a part in her death at the Thicket, but was not responsible for her murder.
After deliberating for approximately two hours, the jury unanimously convicted Mays of murder.
Detective Inspector Adam Edwards, Senior Investigating Officer for the case, said: "Louise was just 16-years-old when she was murdered by Shane Mays, and her death is an absolute tragedy. Our thoughts remain with her family, friends and all that knew her.
"Louise had been described as a smiley, generous person who was known for her kindness, and this is how she will be remembered.
"This was a huge investigation involving a large amount of people from a number of departments across Hampshire Constabulary. Officers and staff worked tirelessly to put the pieces of this awful tragedy together, and bring the case to court.
"I want to thank everyone who worked on this investigation for their determination and commitment.
"We are also immensely grateful to the Leigh Park community for the support they have shown to our investigation, which has helped bring the person responsible for Louise’s death to justice."
Rebbecca Cooper, Louise's mother, said in a statement:
"We would like to thank everyone who contributed in finding justice for our beautiful daughter Louise.
"No words can describe the loss we feel on a daily basis. She was our sunshine, and is truly missed by all that knew her.
"I cannot put it into words, but the pain inside is unbelievable just knowing we will never see her again.
"It has been a very hard few months, and the last four weeks have been traumatising to say the least.
"I want to say thank you to Mr Newton-Price and his team for all the hard work you have done on this case, and thank you to the police for everything you have done for us as a family.
"Please respect our wishes and let us finally grieve for our daughter."
Louise's father, Bradley Smith, has released the following statement:
"Louise was very much loved her whole young life. As a family, we wanted to give her happy times like taking her on holiday.
"We all find it impossible to accept that we will never hear her voice or see her cheeky smile again.
"Our chance to see her grow up has been ripped away from us.
"As a father, I moved away to try and build a life for both of us. I’ll never get a chance to share that with her.
"The loss of Louise has destroyed our family.
"I want to thank the community of Leigh Park for supporting my family and the investigation into her killing.
"Please respect our privacy, and allow us to grieve as a family."
Mays, of Somborne Drive in Leigh Park, will appear at Winchester Crown Court tomorrow (9 December) for sentencing.