The man sitting alone at table seven at Oscar's fish-and-chip restaurant in Pier Road, Littlehampton, was a man of meticulous routine. Always ordering the same meal, a burger washed down with two mugs of tea, on Tuesdays, Roy Whiting would collect £8 from other regulars to place on the National Lottery. A dirty, scruffy outsider, he smelt unwashed, lived alone and had few friends.
Despite attempts to build an outwardly normal life – he has an ex-wife and an estranged teenage son – inside Roy William Whiting a murderous fantasy was growing.
Whiting was born in Horsham Hospital, in West Sussex, on 26 February 1959, the son of a sheet-metal worker and a former cook; he had an unhappy childhood and is thought to have been sexually abused.
He grew up in the Langley Green area of Crawley, West Sussex, with his parents, brother and sister. When Whiting was 17, his mother, Pamela, left home, leaving the children in the care of their father, George, although his older sister, Gillian, and brother, Peter, also moved out. Since his arrest and during the trial both parents have stood by him, and his mother visited the court several times. At the time of his first trial, his barrister said that Whiting led "something of a Walter Mitty existence", making fantastic plans that were never going to be realised.
He struggled at school, attending Jordans School, in Crawley, and then nearby Ifield Community College. Christine Blything, a former Jordans pupil, said: "He was very quiet and had few friends but he never got up to anything."
After leaving school, he had various manual jobs that led to a career as a mechanic. For one month in 1983 he worked at Cherry Lane Adventure Playground, in Crawley, as a temporary play assistant employed by the council, although there are no suggestions that he did anything untoward.
He was married in June 1986 to a petrol pump attendant he had met two years earlier, and they continued to live in the Crawley area. He left her about four months before she gave birth to a boy in July 1987. During their shortlived marriage she had tired of his obsession with car-racing. Whiting's mechanic's business began to fail and he was evicted from his workshop because he did not pay the rent.
His ex-wife said: "His business wasn't bringing in money. That was the only thing wrong with the marriage, he did not have the money to support us. I was the only one bringing in a regular wage and we were always arguing about it."
She continued: "He had a girlfriend after me, she looked like a gangster's moll. She was only in her late teens or early 20s, a lot younger than him."
In 1989 the couple divorced. His ex-wife and child still live in Crawley. His son is 14.
When his ex-wife heard last year that Whiting was charged with Sarah's murder, she said: "I'm in shock at this happening. I have not seen him since Christmas 1995, when he brought a present round for our son. I have absolutely no feelings for him now whatsoever."
She said that in 1995 she had thrown out all photographs of Whiting, including their wedding album.
One of Whiting's few interests was "banger" racing at the Smallfield raceway, north of Crawley, where he raced while working in a garage in Crawley.
Nicknamed "The Flying Fish" – a pun on his surname – he raced with the Gatwick Flyers club and once came third in the club championship.
Steve Beynon, a commentator at the track, recalls Whiting as "nondescript, scruffy but polite, not articulate".
He added: "The year he was third, he didn't actually win a race. He was the invisible man. Roy was scruffy. He was what I call a street mechanic, the sort of bloke everyone knows who will service your car at the side of the road for £25."
A fellow mechanic said: "After a while he got into the habit of sloping off about 3.30 each afternoon, getting back at about 4.30. This was later called the school run by one of us because he was once seen parked near a school when the kids were coming out."
At the time he carried out the earlier kidnap, in 1995, he was working at a mechanic's at the back of Hyders Farm House, in Crawley. Brian Jefferies, who lives at the house, said that Whiting worked there for five years, on and off . "You could not meet a nicer person. He didn't swear, never went to the pubs."
When he got out of prison he moved to 6 St Augustine Road, Littlehampton, a building of about eight flats. He kept a low profile. On the night he abducted Sarah, he was back at Oscar's at 9pm, ordering the usual. Two hours later he was arrested.Reuse content