A cunning and glib liar who should never be set free again

Payne verdict: main story
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The Independent Online

The man who was jailed for life yesterday for murdering Sarah Payne was a convicted paedophile who the authorities had predicted was likely to abduct and kill a child.

Roy Whiting, 42, was described by the judge as a "cunning and glib liar" and "every parent's nightmare" for abducting Sarah from a country lane in Sussex and dumping her body in a field.

After the conviction, Whiting was revealed to have served less than three years in jail for a similar case in which he kidnapped and sexually assaulted a nine-year-old girl in 1995. Questions were being asked as to why the sex offender was given an apparently lenient sentence and allowed to go free, only to kill five years after the first attack, also in Sussex.

There was also criticism of a psychiatric report compiled on behalf of the Prison Service for his 1995 court case, which concluded that Whiting did not have "paedophile tendencies".

A probation report written on his release in 1997 said that he was likely to kill if he abducted another child, and the police categorised him as a "high risk" predatory paedophile.

Within three years, Whiting had grabbed Sarah, eight, of Hersham, Surrey, while on the prowl for victims on the Sussex coast, and held her prisoner in his van. He is thought to have sexually abused her before killing her and burying her in a shallow grave near Pulborough, West Sussex, on 1 July last year. The crucial evidence in obtaining the conviction was the discovery of one of Sarah's hairs on Whiting's clothing and fibres from his sweatshirt on the girl's shoe, which was found less than four miles from where she was buried.

Sarah's parents, Sara and Michael, made an appeal yesterday for tougher sentencing. Mrs Payne said: "This doesn't make us happy. Justice has been done. Sarah can rest in peace now but let us make sure this stops happening time and time again.People are being let out of prison when everybody concerned knows that this is going to happen again."

When the jury returned unanimous verdicts after 11 hours of deliberation at Lewes Crown Court, there was a shout of "yes" from members of the Payne family.

Whiting showed no emotion as the packed court, including Whiting's mother, Pamela, was told about the previous kidnap. Several members of the jury started to cry. Sarah's brothers Lee, 14, and Luke, 13, who were playing with her moments before she was kidnapped, were there to see Whiting sentenced after counsellors said it would help them to get over any feelings of guilt.

As Mr Payne cradled his wife in his arms, Mr Justice Curtis told Whiting: "You are every parent and every grandparent's nightmare come true." The judge said it was important in society to allow children to have their freedom. "You have exploited this for your own abnormal sexual desires," he said.

He said Whiting's white van "was a moving prison for her and anyone else you caught". He went on: "You stripped her naked after you suffocated her and buried her and got rid of her clothes. You are indeed an evil man." The judge said that Whiting would remain an "absolute menace" to any girl and added that he would recommend he spend the rest of his life behind bars.

As Whiting was led away from the court, Mr Payne shouted: "I hope you rot."

Whiting, a divorcee and father of a teenage boy, first struck in March 1995 when he kidnapped a girl in his home town of Crawley and drove her to the countryside, where he indecently assaulted her before dropping her off. Whiting was sentenced to four years for kidnapping and sexual assault, although the maximum jail term for the offence is life.

The original trial judge, John Gower QC, defended his decision yesterday, arguing that the sentence was "right".

The Association of Child Abuse Lawyers accused the judiciary and psychiatric assessors of being insufficiently trained to deal with child abuse cases. On Whiting's release in November 1997 a probation officer assessed him and warned that he was likely to kill the next child he abducted because he had refused to take part in any treatment programmes for sex offenders while in prison and would not want to leave any witnesses. Police and probation officers classified Whiting, who was put on the Sex Offenders Register, as being at "high risk" of reoffending.

Within weeks of his release, he was spotted at a swimming pool in Littlehampton and was followed by officers for two days. He was questioned but denied he was spying on children.

Police and probation officers had no power to restrict his movements or keep him under closer supervision. Detective Superintendent Jeremy Paine, the head of Sussex CID, said: "The fact is Roy Whiting was a free man to do what he wanted. He gave no indication at all that he was about to reoffend for two and a half years."

After the verdict, Sara Payne's mother, Elizabeth Williams, said: "We can never come to terms with having lost Sarah as long as we live, but she will always be in our hearts and minds. She will always be alive and we'll always miss her."