A neighbour of murdered Tia Sharp's grandmother was jailed today for lying about seeing her alive when she was already dead.
"Attention-seeking" Paul Meehan, 40, told police he saw the 12-year-old walk past his house.
But she had already been brutally murdered and her body hidden in the loft of her grandmother Christine Bicknell's home in Croydon, south London.
In May, Ms Bicknell's boyfriend Stuart Hazell was jailed for a minimum of 38 years for the youngster's murder in August last year.
Today, District Judge Karen Hammond said Meehan basked in the attention of being a crucial witness as detectives searched and appealed for help finding Tia.
Jailing him for five months, she said: "You basked to some degree in the attention your disclosure brought you."
Meehan, a bus driver with one conviction for theft, looked down and closed his eyes when he was told his sentence would begin immediately.
Tia was murdered either late at night on Thursday August 2 last year or in the early morning of the following day at 20 The Lindens, New Addington, in south east London.
Despite being asked three times about Tia, Meehan did not tell officers he had seen her until late on August 6.
Croydon Magistrates' Court heard that his false information about Tia, described as detailed and vivid, threw police off Hazell's scent and gave her worried family false hope.
The district judge said: "You led police down blind alleys, having to chase and check unnecessary details and delaying the interview of Stuart Hazell by 24 hours."
She described the consequences of his false report as "significant and substantial...
"You did bask to some degree in the attention your disclosure brought you.
"It was a lie you persisted in for 12 months.
"It is hard to imagine a more serious example of wasting police time."
Meehan told police he had seen missing Tia after she was already dead
Outside court, Tia's mother Natalie Sharp said: "I hope he rots."
Last week the family marked her murder with a private candle-lit vigil.
Meehan was originally arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
He was not in league with Hazell, who murdered the youngster in a twisted sexual episode and then wrapped her body in bin liners and hid it in the loft space above their adjoining homes.
On Monday August 6, as the missing girl's family were frantic with worry, Meehan told police he had seen her walk past him the previous Friday while he was in his garden.
He described the clothes she was wearing and told witnesses that Hazell could not have done it.
Officers originally spoke to Meehan on Saturday August 4, the day after Tia was reported missing.
He did not say he had seen her.
He was spoken to again that weekend and again stayed silent.
On the Monday, police spoke to him a third time during the day and again he did not say he had seen her.
But several hours later he did make the claim.
Asked why he had not spoken up before, he claimed to have told one officer.
There was no record of it.
And he claimed he was tired and had just woken up the first time he was asked about it.
He also said he could not be sure it was her but changed his mind to become 100% sure he had.
His defence team said he "confabulated" seeing her - his brain mistakenly filled in the blanks in good faith.
But Jocelyn Ledward, prosecuting, said Meehan "deliberately lied", possibly to put himself in an important position in what was then a missing persons inquiry.
She said it was possible that he was attention-seeking and was "puffed up" being important to the inquiry.
She said: "He wouldn't be the first or last person to derive some satisfaction, however subconsciously, of playing the role of the last person to see the victim of a homicide alive."
She added that Meehan had texted his wife about his police dealings.
"Relish is perhaps too strong a word but there was some subconscious enjoyment in the process of becoming an important witness in the investigation."
Meehan told police: "Within my heart I know it was Tia and I know it was her walking down the path that Friday."
After being arrested, he started to backtrack.
Detective Sergeant Eric Sword, of the Metropolitan Police, said: "Meehan's false statement meant we had to spend time investigating and trying to corroborate his story. He made himself a significant witness through his false report and we had a duty to fully look into what he said.
"Clearly this was a waste of valuable police resources at a crucial time and it is only right he has been charged and brought before the courts."
Despite several searches of Hazell's and Bicknell's home, police failed to find Tia for a week.
In a victim impact statement, Ms Bicknell criticised the police for failing to find Tia sooner and hit out at Meehan.
She wrote: "I believe without the false statement my grandaughter would have been found earlier and we would have been able to say goodbye to her properly and give her a final kiss."
She added that Meehan's report "directed searches away from the house and denied myself, her mum, uncle and step-dad the right to see her for one final time".