Legal hitch over jury halts Sarah Payne trial

Click to follow

The Sarah Payne murder trial was halted suddenly and the jury discharged yesterday because of a legal hitch.

The father of the eight-year-old, Michael Payne, held his face in his hands as the judge stopped the case near the start of its second day because of a "procedural irregularity".

Nobody from the family was present when a second jury was sworn in yesterday afternoon. Members of the new jury were asked if they had helped in the search for Sarah or had given information to police after she went missing near her grandparents' home in East Preston, West Sussex, last summer.

Unlike the first jury, they were also asked if they, or anyone close to them, knew a member of the Payne family, the accused, Roy Whiting, or any of the Sussex police involved in the search for Sarah.

Timothy Langdale QC, the counsel for the prosecution, will open the case against Mr Whiting, an unemployed mechanic, for a second time today.

The sudden development came 40 minutes into yesterday's hearing as Mr Langdale was outlining forensic evidence against Mr Whiting, who is accused of murdering the girl after kidnapping her by a cornfield where she had been playing hide-and-seek with her young brothers and sister.

Mr Langdale was passed a note by a member of his own legal team. He asked for the case to be adjourned for a short period. After more than 90 minutes, Mr Justice Curtis discharged the jury of seven women and five men.

"I'm sorry to say I have had a report which discloses a procedural irregularity and the result is I'm going to discharge you from further jury duty," he said. "I regret it but it's one of those things. It's the fault of neither party in the case."

The judge did not provide further details. Mr Whiting, wearing a grey sweatshirt and jeans, collected a bundle of maps and documents before he was escorted from the court by security guards.

Mr Payne, aged 33, and his distressed wife, Sara, aged 32, who is expected to give evidence during the four-week trial, left minutes later through a scrum of press photographers waiting outside Lewes Crown Court.

After being sworn in, the jury of nine men and three women was told that Mr Whiting denied murdering and kidnapping the girl. They were then sent home for the night.

Mr Whiting is accused of abducting Sarah, holding her captive in the back of his van before dumping her body within 24 hours in a field by the side of the A29 near Pulborough. She went missing on 1 July last year.

Mr Whiting is alleged to have grinned at the victim's brother as he sped off with her in his van. The court has been told there is "compelling" evidence pointing to his guilt.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Langdale told the first jury that Mr Whiting had intimate knowledge of the areas where Sarah was first snatched and where her naked and partially buried body was found 16 days later and more than 20 miles away.

Scientific tests were done on a shoe, identified as belonging to Sarah, which was discovered by the side of a road near where her body was found. This was the only item of her clothing recovered.

Mr Langdale said the tests had shown that four fibres from a red sweatshirt found in Mr Whiting's white van were stuck to the velcro of the shoe. He said scientists had also found a fibre on the shoe from a clown-patterned curtain that had been in Mr Whiting's van.