Payne verdict: Attack on girl of nine brought jail term and a 'high risk' tag

Previous Offence
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The Independent Online

If there was a standard profile of a murderous paedophile, Roy Whiting fitted the bill. This was the view of the police and the probation service, which categorised him as a "high risk" predator. The tragedy was they appeared powerless to act beyond the occasional secret meeting to discuss his case progress. That was until he struck.

Then it came as no great surprise, when, within 24 hours of Sarah Payne's disappearance, he was named as the prime suspect for her abduction. He was the obvious choice. Five years earlier he had abducted another young girl in the south of England and sexually assaulted her in similar circumstances. The only difference in his first attack was that he released his victim – something the violent fantasist would later view as a mistake not to be repeated.

In the first attack Whiting kidnapped a nine-year-old girl as she played on a street in Crawley, West Sussex, and sexually assaulted her. For his crimes he was given a four-year jail sentence and he served two years and five months.

The girl, now aged 15, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was abducted on 4 March 1995 while playing with two eight-year-old girl friends at about 2pm. Whiting, then aged 36, drove up in his Ford Sierra and attempted to snatch all the children. Two managed to escape, the third was thrown into the back of the Sierra.

Whiting claimed he had a knife and told the terrified girl to lie on the floor in the back while he drove her 30 miles along back roads and country lanes to a secluded location where he ordered her to take off her clothes. When she refused he pulled some lengths of rope out of his pocket and threatened to tie her up. She stripped and was ordered to lay on the back seat where Whiting sexually assaulted her.

Whiting eventually told the girl to get dressed and took her close to her home and dropped her off, Lewes Crown Court was told. Her ordeal lasted for about two hours. The victim later described it as "disgraceful, disgusting".

The police traced the car and arrested Whiting in Crawley two weeks later. He made a full confession, telling the police he had just "snapped".

The court heard that a psychiatric report by Dr Anthony Farrington concluded that Whiting was a "high risk" but "did not have paedophile tendencies". His assessment was based upon a two-hour interview and a review of the case. Commenting on his report, Dr Farrington said yesterday: "I stand by my report, which was very carefully worded, and do not feel guilty about what I wrote. It was the best I could do with the time and information I had available to me."

In the original case Philip Marshall, for the defence, said: "Both the probation officer and Dr Farrington have come to the conclusion that he is a high risk but that, of course, has to be viewed against the background that he does not have paedophile tendencies."

Assessments by Dr Farrington and the probation service pointed to evidence that Whiting had acted in a premeditated manner. But Judge John Gower QC, who presided over the case, said that he was sentencing Whiting on the basis that it was not a premeditated assault. Judge Gower told Whiting: "We have no doubt you terrified that poor little girl ... and this you did for your own selfish sexual pleasure."

Having pleaded guilty to kidnapping and indecent assault, Whiting faced a maximum life sentence for the first count and up to 10 years for the second. The judge gave him four years. Child welfare groups said yesterday the term was far too lenient. But Judge Gower defended his decision.

Speaking from his home in East Sussex, the 77-year-old retired judge said: "I passed upon him a sentence which in my judgment was warranted in light of the mitigation which was offered to me. The defence, as far as I know, did not appeal the sentence and the Attorney General did not refer it to the Court of Appeal for being unduly lenient." Although it was a decision taken six years ago his "perception" now was that it was the "right" one.

Shortly before Whiting's release from Elmley Prison in Sheerness, Kent, on 7 November 1997, Mandy Poynton of West Sussex Probation Service assessed him and concluded that he posed a "serious risk" because he had failed while in jail to acknowledge his paedophile tendencies, refusing to attend voluntary sex offender treatment courses, and he was likely to kill the next child he abducted because of his mistake in releasing his first victim.

The police and probation service held a meeting on 16 and 17 October 1997 to discuss Whiting and it was confirmed that he was considered to be a "high risk" offender – the top category for sex offenders.

A police source said: "There were concerns within the probation service that he had not done any voluntary programmes and was not confronting his paedophile tendencies. One of the reasons he was considered dangerous was because his victim the first time had been allowed to live.

"Because she survived and had him locked up the expert view was that if he offended again he would probably kill his victim so they could not testify against him. Clearly he was lying dormant."

Brian Clark, the head of the probation service in Sussex, said yesterday: "He did not accept he was a paedophile, but our assessment was that the risk of him carrying out another sexual offence against a child was high, so by definition we were saying he was a paedophile."

The Sex Offenders Act came into force in October 1997. Convicted sex offenders were required to register with the police and inform them of their home address and any changes to their address or name. Whiting registered with Sussex Police on 19 November.

Instead of returning to Crawley, he moved into a rented flat in the quiet Sussex seaside town of Littlehampton. Police at first kept him under surveillance but, when he got a job as a builder and appeared to be living a normal life, they stopped watching him closely.

Detective Inspector Paul Williams visited him at his flat to check that he was working and to make his presence known. He went to see him in November 1997, in May 1998 and possibly in February 1999, although the officer was unsure.

Whiting was kept under supervision by the probation service for four months, during which time he was visited 16 times by a probation officers. The police and probation service met regularly at first to discuss Whiting. They held meetings on 13 November 1997, in December 1997, March, May and June of 1998. There was then a gap until May 2000 when the panel that reviewed his conduct were told there was no new information on Whiting and that he had not committed any offences. The police and probation staff wanted to place Whiting under a Sex Offenders Order that would restrict his movements and ban him from contacting children. Despite police surveillance, they were unable to come up with the evidence required to obtain such an order from court.

A further meeting was scheduled in July 2000, but he abducted Sarah before they could discuss him further. The prosecution would later claim that on the day he abducted Sarah he visited a funfair and was "on the prowl".

Police can find no evidence that he committed any offences since his release and up to the abduction of Sarah. They have no plans to interview him about any other offences.