Forensic mistake 'possible' in Sarah evidence

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A senior forensic scientist admitted in court yesterday that a sweatshirt, which provided a crucial connection between Sarah Payne and her alleged killer, could have been contaminated.

A single blonde hair that provided an exact DNA match with the eight-year-old could have been transferred by mistake to the garment by forensic scientists at their London laboratories, Lewes Crown Court heard.

The sweatshirt, found in the van of unemployed mechanic Roy Whiting, was among a batch of 55 items transferred by police in sealed bags to the Forensic Science Service in Lambeth, south London.

Bags containing two hairbrushes from the Payne household were among them but forensic scientist Raymond Chapman discovered a number of human and animal hairs had become stuck to the sticky labels on the bags. One of the hairs was similar to the one found on the sweatshirt and, when it was examined by scientists, was found to have come from Sarah's younger sister Charlotte, now aged six.

During cross-examination by Sally O'Neill QC, for the defence, Mr Chapman conceded that it was "a possibility" that one of Sarah's hairs could also have been on the sticky label, fallen off and ended up on the sweatshirt. But he told the jury of nine men and three women: "It's not a great possibility."

The court was told that Whiting's white van was seized on 2 July last year, the day after Sarah disappeared from a lane in East Preston, West Sussex.

The sweatshirt inside was put in a bag after being photographed and examined under special lights but the hair was not spotted.

Whiting, 42, of Littlehampton, West Sussex, denies kidnap and murder. The case continues.