Agony begins again for Sarah's family

by PAUL HARRIS and CHRISTIAN GYSIN, Daily Mail

The family of Sarah Payne faced renewed agony last night after the trial of the man accused of her murder was dramatically halted.

An unspecified 'procedural irregularity' was blamed for the abandonment of the hearing after two days of evidence. A new jury has been sworn in and the trial will begin again today.

Michael Payne, father of eight-year-old Sarah, held his face in one hand when the decision was announced and the girl's mother, Sara, who was outside the courtroom, left looking deeply distraught.

It means a further test for their emotional endurance 16 months after their daughter's naked body was found in a West Sussex field.

Earlier yesterday, prosecutors focussed on five tiny fibres they said linked Sarah to the accused.

They were found on the Velcro strap of her little black shoe and matched to material found in the van in which she was allegedly abducted.

Four were from a red sweatshirt worn by 42-year-old Roy Whiting, which police recovered from the back of his van, the prosecution said. The fifth was from a clown-pattern curtain that was also recovered from the vehicle.

All were discovered on a shoe found just a few miles from where her body was dumped.

Timothy Langdale QC told a jury at Lewes Crown Court that the evidence was of the 'greatest importance'.

He turned towards Whiting in the dock and added: 'It was evidence which the prosecution say, when taken into account with all the circumstances of this case, point conclusively to this defendant's guilt.'

Sarah, from Hersham, Surrey, was abducted from a country lane near her grandparents' house in Kingston Gorse, West Sussex, last summer.

Her body was found 16 days later in a field near Pulborough.

Whiting, of Littlehampton, West Sussex, pleads not guilty to abduction and murder.

Mr Langdale told the original jury of five men and seven women how, as he put it, 'the evidence pointing to Roy Whiting being responsible for Sarah Payne's death was building up' in the weeks after her body was discovered.

Whiting, he said, had a 'close knowledge' of the area where she was kidnapped.

He had worked there as a labourer at a nearby house and he used to walk the owner's dog in the fields and lanes around the spot where Sarah disappeared.

He also 'seemed to have a great knowledge' of roads and farm tracks around Pulborough and West Chiltington. The QC said: 'You may think that rather significant in terms of the location where Sarah's body was buried.'

And elsewhere, he said, the evidence was also building up.

Whiting owned a white van like the one seen by Sarah's brother Lee at the time she was snatched.

He had lied to police about where he was on that Saturday night, and about what he was doing on the next day before detectives called at his seaside flat.

But the most important area of the case, he said, was science. 'And there is scientific evidence linking this defendant to this crime,' he said.

The shoe had been found at Coolham, near Pulborough, a few hours after Sarah's body was discovered on July 17. The jury has already been invited to consider whether it was thrown from a vehicle by her killer.

He showed them a picture of the shoe and told them it was one of the 'particularly important' exhibits in the case.

Yesterday he said it had been subjected to long and detailed analysis by forensic scientist Ray Chapman.

He found four fibres that matched a red sweatshirt taken from Whiting's white Fiat Ducato van. DNA from the sweatshirt matched Whiting's profile, and tests on the shoe itself found a tuft of fibres from one of Sarah's favourite school sweatshirts.

Mr Langdale told the court that multi- coloured fibres from a clown curtain in the van were also found on the shoe.

The curtain had been left in the van by the man who sold it to Whiting six days before the abduction.

It was at this point that the trial came dramatically to a halt. Mr Langdale was handed a note by his junior counsel and told the jury he was going to have to stop.

During the next two hours, lawyers, court officials and police officers joined the judge in private discussion.

When they returned Mr Justice Curtis announced he would have to discharge the jury and start again.

The only reason given in court was that there had been a 'procedural irregularity'. The judge added: 'I regret it, but it's one of those things. It is the fault of neither party in this case.'

A new panel of jurors in waiting had to answer three questions before nine men and three women among them were sworn in.

They were asked by the judge if they had helped in the search for Sarah, whether they had helped police with their investigation, or if they or anyone close to them knew the Payne family, the Whiting family or any members of the Sussex Police investigating team.

One man replied 'yes' to the last question and was asked to leave.

The new jury was told that Whiting denies kidnapping Sarah on July 1 last year and murdering her between June 30 and July 3 last year.

The hearing is expected to restart today.

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