Schoolgirl's killer 'waved to brother as he drove off'

Court is told that Roy Whiting, an unemployed mechanic, was 'on the prowl' in a white van on the day the eight-year-old vanished
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The Independent Online

The smiling killer of Sarah Payne waved to her brother as he sped off with the eight-year-old in the back of his van, a court was told.

There was compelling scientific evidence to prove that within a day Roy Whiting, 42, killed the girl and buried her naked body in a shallow grave in a field about 20 miles away, the prosecution said.

After the killing, the unemployed mechanic tried to change his appearance. An acquaintance said the normally scruffy and dirty Mr Whiting looked as if he had been "steam cleaned" the day after she went missing, Lewes Crown Court was told.

Opening the case for the prosecution, Timothy Langdale QC said Mr Whiting had been "on the prowl" for his victim and after the killing changed the doors on his van, ripped out the interior and lied to police about where he had been. Mr Whiting, of Littlehampton, West Sussex, claimed that on the evening Sarah was snatched he had been at a funfair in Hove before going home for the night. However, a receipt found in his dirty, white van indicated he had bought diesel at 10pm that day from a service station close to where the body was eventually found.

Mr Langdale said there was "compelling evidence that points to Roy Whiting and Roy Whiting alone as the man responsible for kidnapping this girl and killing her" for what he said was a "sexually motivated homicide".

Mr Whiting, in court flanked by three security guards and wearing a grey sweatshirt and jeans, denies kidnapping and murdering the schoolgirl.

Members of Sarah's family, including her grandparents Terence, 58, and Lesley, 46, and her father, Michael Payne, who was 33 yesterday, were in the public gallery.

The court was told that Sarah, of Hersham, Surrey, had been abducted within seconds of leaving a cornfield where she had been playing hide and seek with her brothers and sister on July 1 last year.

She had been visiting her grandparents for a weekend by the sea at East Preston, West Sussex, and was playing with brothers Lee, then 13, Luke, 11 and sister Charlotte, 5, in a field close to the house.

The two boys had promised not to leave the young girls on their own but, during their games, Sarah hurt her head and, ignoring the pleas of Luke, tried to return to her grandparents' house alone, Mr Langdale said.

He said: "Lee, the eldest brother, saw this and ran diagonally across the field towards her but when he was about half way across the field Sarah got to the gap, went through it and that's the last anybody saw of her alive." Lee ran after her through the gap and saw a van drive past him, wheels spinning because of the speed, a scruffy man with a dirty face at the wheel. The man smiled at him and waved.

Unaware that Sarah was inside, he went to his grandparents' house to look for his sister. The family embarked on an increasingly frantic search of the fields and beach and then called police.

"It's the Crown's case that the driver of that van was this defendant, Roy Whiting, and it's the Crown's case that Sarah was already in that van having been picked up or snatched up," Mr Langdale said.

Sarah was found, naked and partly buried, 16 days later by a farm labourer in a field near Pulborough, West Sussex.

Animals had torn parts from her body and a pathologist could not say whether she had been sexually assaulted. She was believed to have been strangled or smothered.

The only item of clothing that was found was a shoe by the side of the road. It might have been thrown from Whiting's van window, Mr Langdale said. Forensic science tests on the shoe showed it had fibres on it that linked it to items found in the van.The jury of seven women and five men were told that police went to Mr Whiting's flat in Littlehampton the day after Sarah disappeared. Mr Whiting let officers search it and told them he returned from the funfair and stayed at home from 8.30pm.

He took police to his Fiat Ducatto van parked outside. Officers then left him and hid in their car down the street from where they watched as Mr Whiting returned to the van several times before going back to his flat. He left for a final time at 11pm and was then arrested on suspicion of abducting Sarah.

Mr Whiting was examined at Chichester police station after his arrest and was found to have three new scratches on his ribs and arms. He gave no explanation.

Police discovered Mr Whiting had altered the van, which was bought six days before Sarah was abducted. He had replaced the solid doors with doors with windows, which he had bought from a man in Poole for £10. Panelling inside the van had been removed, Mr Langdale said.

Mr Langdale told the jurors that they could conclude the work done after Sarah's death "may have got rid of tell-tale signs of the presence of Sarah in the van or the presence of her body".

Among the other items found in the van was a blow torch – bought the day after Sarah disappeared – which tests showed had been used for three minutes.

The trial continues today.