Six minutes to dig grave for Sarah, court told

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The killer of Sarah Payne could have dug the schoolgirl's shallow grave in a darkened field and buried her body within six minutes, a jury was told on Wednesday.

Police ascertained that a similarly sized grave for the 4ft-high child could have been dug within three minutes before it was covered over with turf. An area was excavated in the same field and close to the spot where Sarah was found dead by a farm labourer 16 days after she first went missing in July last year.

The fourth day of the trial of her alleged killer, Roy Whiting, was told forensic archaeologists concluded that the grave, on the edge of the A29 near Pulborough, West Sussex, had been dug hurriedly.

The only item of Sarah's clothing that has been found, one of her shoes, was recovered close to the grave site after being knocked about by traffic on a road for two weeks before anyone realised its importance, Lewes Crown Court was told.

Deborah Bray, who lived near by, first saw the shoe on Coolham Road on 3 July last year, two days after Sarah, of Hersham, Surrey, was abducted from next to a cornfield where she had been playing with her brothers and sister. Ms Bray contacted police when she learnt about the discovery of eight-year-old Sarah two miles away on 17 July.

Ms Bray told the court that the police asked her to try to get the shoe, which she found underneath a hedge by the side of the road. "I wasn't really expecting it to be there," she said.

The jury of nine men and three women has heard that fibres discovered on the shoe's velcro strap were linked to items found in Mr Whiting's van. Mr Whiting, of Littlehampton, West Sussex, allegedly had a detailed knowledge of the area where Sarah was found. He had also worked close to where Sarah was kidnapped.

Mr Whiting was a labourer for a house renovation and often took the owner's rottweiler for a walk past the field at East Preston, West Sussex, where Sarah had been playing on the day she went missing. He went off sick two weeks earlier.

In his statement to police, Mr Whiting's employer, Douglas Wawman, said: "Whilst working with Roy I didn't talk much because I wanted him working not talking. I would describe Roy as a loner with few or no friends and not someone with whom I have much, if anything, in common."

Mr Whiting was a regular at Oscar's fish and chip restaurant near his flat where he always had a burger and two mugs of tea, the court was told. He used to meet a group of friends there in the afternoon but he eventually went alone when a member of the group died and they stopped going, said Helena Cumberland, the wife of the owner.

Ms Cumberland said she last saw Mr Whiting the day after Sarah was abducted when he came in for his usual meal and sat at his normal table.

Telephone records showed that he made a call from his home on the morning of the kidnapping to a garage in Worthing to check if some spare parts for his white van were available. He did not make any other calls until the following afternoon when he contacted his father, the court was told.

Mr Whiting denies kidnap and murder. The case continues.