'The killer has been watching us suffer for two weeks'

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The Independent Online

The parents of the murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne made a fresh appeal yesterday for information about their daughter's killer, asking that no other family be made to endure their experiences.

The parents of the murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne made a fresh appeal yesterday for information about their daughter's killer, asking that no other family be made to endure their experiences.

At a press conference in Littlehampton, Sussex, Sara and Michael Payne held each other as they spoke of the senselessness of what had happened. Later, with their other children, Lee, Luke and Charlotte, the couple returned to the place where Sarah was found dead.

"The family is devastated. It hasn't really sunk in yet," Mrs Payne said. "We have got a job now and that is to catch this person or persons. Whoever it is has got to be stopped." Her husband added: "We don't want this to happen to anybody ever."

Speaking sometimes in unison, sometimes finishing sentences for one another, Mr and Mrs Payne appealed for information about a white Ford Transit-type van seen in the area from where Sarah was abducted on 1 July.

Mrs Payne said: "We need to catch this ... these people. They must never, ever be allowed to put another family through this. They have watched us for the past two weeks. They have torn our children apart and they could have done something about it by picking up the phone. We cannot even see our daughter because it's too hard and it's not Sarah. I don't think that anyone should be allowed to do that to anybody.

"We believe in justice, and death is too good for this person, so help us find him, her, them, whoever you are."

Her husband added: "They have watched us suffer, they watched our family go through something it should not go through. The whole thing was just senseless. I mean, to take a little girl like that, for what reason? For what reason would you do this to someone?"

Sarah's body was discovered on Monday morning in undergrowth close to the A29 at Pulborough, West Sussex, 12 miles from where she went missing at Kingston Gorse, near Littlehampton.

When they returned to the spot yesterday, the Paynes spent about 20 minutes picking up bouquets, reading messages written on cards to them, and speaking with some of the many local residents who have visited the site since Tuesday.

At one point, Mrs Payne stopped to embrace a lady in a wheelchair who was among the well-wishers walking up the road to visit the scene. Sarah's sister Charlotte, 6, took a doll away with her. "This was for Sarah but now I am looking after it," she said.

After leaving the grass verge, which has been piled high with flowers, the Payne children spent some time playing with the Metropolitan Police dogs in a field opposite, which has been turned into a car park for people wishing to pay tribute at the site.

Detective Superintendent Alan Ladley, who is heading the inquiry, said at the press conference that a post-mortem examination had so far proved inconclusive as to the cause of Sarah's death. He said, however, that suffocation or strangulation were possibilities. There were no severe external injuries. "Further forensic work is ongoing to try and focus on that a bit more." He said it was unclear whether Sarah - whose body was naked when it was discovered - had been sexually assaulted.

Police say it is now vital that they discover the clothes Sarah was wearing - black shoes and a deep blue Fred Perry-style sports dress - when she went missing.

She and her brothers and sister had been playing in a wheatfield close to their grandparents' house where they were staying for the weekend. She was last seen by Lee, 13, as she left the field to return to the house. When he arrived a few minutes later there was no trace of his sister.

Mr Ladley praised Sarah's parents for their determination: "They feel an overwhelming need to do whatever they can and you can understand that they need to find Sarah's killer.

"They feel this is the only way they can reach everybody and they are determined to do it. Now they know what has happened to Sarah they want to know that the person that did that to Sarah can't do it again."

Mr Ladley also warned against vigilante attacks prompted by the discovery of Sarah's body.

He confirmed that between 20 and 30 youths had been involved on Tuesday night throwing stones and shouting abuse at a house in Crawley, West Sussex, where the father of one of the men arrested in connection to the inquiry lived. The man's father has since been removed for his own safety. He said: "The person we arrested is not at that address so any future vigilante attacks, no matter how well-intended, are inappropriate and not necessary and I have to say they will not be condoned by police.

"Our response will be robust. I would rather not deploy resources up there when they are needed down here to find whoever killed Sarah."