Brothers tell of desperate last sighting of Sarah

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The Independent Online

The frantic attempts of Sarah Payne's two young brothers to catch her as she fled tearfully from a cornfield before she was kidnapped and killed were relived in court on Monday.

In moving video footage, a jury at Lewes Crown Court saw Lee, then aged 13, and Luke, 11, describe how they were seconds from stopping her leaving the field where they had been playing hide-and-seek.

That night the boys discussed the significance of a "scruffy" van driver who sped past Lee as he searched for his eight-year-old sister. Luke told his police interviewer they thought there was "a pervert going around in a white van picking up children and we started to worry a bit".

Sarah's parents, Sara, 32, and Michael, 33, from Hersham, Surrey, watched attentively as the videos, which had been recorded the day after their daughter went missing and which they had never seen before, were played.

The boys, wearing T-shirts and casual trousers, sat in the same large chair for separate interviews as they tried to piece together the events before Sarah was abducted and told of their attempts to find her. In one of the most poignant moments, Luke asked his police interviewer: "When do you reckon you are going to get Sarah back?"

On 1 July last year Sarah, her brothers, younger sister Charlotte, five, and their dog, Fifa, went to a field near their grandparents' home at East Preston, West Sussex, to play.Sarah was knocked over and hurt her head. In tears, she tried to go back to her grandparents' house.

The boys had been warned by their mother to look after the girls when they went to play. Luke later told police that he was 10 seconds away from stopping Sarah but had to turn back to help Charlotte, who had stung her knee on nettles. "I don't know why she [Sarah] walked so fast, she's normally a dawdler," he said.

Lee ran through the cornfield and was three-quarters of the way to a gap in the hedge but she had vanished by the time he reached it. "I feel as if I should have done something," he told the police interviewer. Asked if he felt responsible about what had happened, he said "no".

Lee said he went outside the field and saw a suntanned man in a white van drive past, grinning and waving at him. "He looked scruffy. He looked like he had not shaven for ages. He had little white bristles on his face and there were little bits of grey in his hair, which was greasy," Lee said. "His face was dirty and he had yellowish teeth when he grinned. His eyes were really white and stood out on his face. He looked like he had been through some bushes."

He went to his grandparents' home and asked his grandmother, Lesley Payne, if Sarah was there. According to her statement, when Lee was told that she wasn't, he said: "I've lost her."

The family embarked on a desperate search. In his statement, which was read to the court, Michael Payne said he went out at 5am the next day to search for his daughter. "A lot of this is now a blur; my brain was racing and I was in a panic," his statement said.

No trace was found of Sarah until her body was found in a shallow grave in a field 20 miles away at Pulborough, West Sussex, on 17 July.

Roy Whiting, 42, an unemployed mechanic from Littlehampton, West Sussex, was arrested, but Lee did not pick him out at an identity parade, the court was told.

Lee, now 14, briefly answered questions via a live video link. His brother did not give evidence yesterday.

Earlier, his mother, Sara Payne told the court that she had warned her children about strangers: "Always my last words to them were, 'Please stay together'," she said.

Mr Whiting denies kidnap and murder.

The trial continues today.