Whiting was born in Crawley in January 1959 and grew up in the West Sussex town as the son of George and Pamela Whiting, who divorced during the 1970s. He had a total of five siblings but three of them died in infancy and his only surviving siblings were an older brother and younger sister.
He left Ifield Community College in 1975 with no academic qualifications and over the next few years found himself employed in several different jobs, including doing deliveries for the local Co-operative store and working as a car mechanic and paintsprayer at a local garage.
In 1986, he married Linda Booker who became pregnant the same year; however, they separated just before the birth of their son in 1987 and were divorced in 1990.
1995 conviction and imprisonment
On 4 March 1995, Whiting abducted and sexually assaulted an eight-year-old girl on the Langley Green estate in Crawley. He was arrested a few weeks later after a man who knew Whiting came forward after hearing that the abductor's car had been a red Ford Sierra, identical to the vehicle that Whiting had just sold. Three months later, he admitted to the charges of abduction and indecent assault and was sentenced to four years in prison. The maximum sentence would have been a life sentence for the crime, however, his sentence was reduced because he had admitted to the crime. A psychiatrist who assessed Whiting after his conviction said that he was likely to re-offend once he was released.
Whiting was released from prison in November 1997, having serving 2 years and 5 months of his original 4-year sentence, and was one of the first people in Britain to go on the sex offenders' register. Whiting, knowing that he would not be welcome back in Crawley, moved some 25 miles (40 km) away to Littlehampton on the West Sussex coast, where he rented a flat in St Augustine's Road. Two years later, he moved into another flat in the same road. On 2 July 2000, officers from Sussex Police visited his flat making inquiries into the disappearance of Sarah Payne, who had gone missing in the Kingston Gorse area of Littlehampton the previous evening.
Sarah Payne murder investigation
Whiting was questioned about the disappearance of Sarah Payne some several miles from Whiting's flat. Whiting was routinely questioned as he had been placed on the Sex Offenders Register. The officers left Whiting's flat but were suspicious of his lack of concern for Sarah - something that some of the worst offenders had shown when questioned in connection with Sarah's disappearance. When Whiting re-appeared soon after and attempted to drive away in his van, he was stopped by the police and arrested. He spent two days in custody but the police had no concrete evidence to press any charges, although they had found a receipt for fuel at Buck Barn garage near Pulborough which contradicted his alibi of being at a funfair in Hove at 5.30 p.m, and then returning to his flat by 9.30 p.m on the night Sarah disappeared.
When Whiting was released on bail, he went to live with his father in Crawley while his flat in St Augustine's Road was being examined by forensic scientists. No evidence was found in Whiting's flat to suggest that Sarah had been there previously.
Whiting was released on police bail. On 17 July 2000, Sarah Payne's body was discovered and identified within 24 hours. Roy Whiting was subsequently re-arrested on 31 July 2000 on suspicion of murder. Despite Sarah's body being discovered just 3 miles (5 km) from the service station where Whiting had bought fuel on the night Sarah disappeared, along with Whitings' failure to confirm his alibi, there was still not enough evidence to press charges and Whiting was released on bail once again.
A few days after his second arrest, Whiting moved out of his father's house after a vigilante mob smashed the windows with bricks, and went to live in a tent in woodland behind a housing estate in Crawley. He then took to the road in a stolen Vauxhall Nova car and was pursued by police at speeds of up to 70 mph (112 km/h) before he crashed into a parked vehicle and was arrested on dangerous driving charges. On 27 September 2000, Whiting admitted taking the car and driving dangerously. He was sentenced to 22 months' imprisonment.
When Whiting began his jail term for the car theft, detectives were able to carry out forensic tests on his Fiat Ducato van. On 6 February 2001, following an police enquiry, Roy Whiting was formally charged with the murder of Sarah Payne.
By 6 February 2001, Sussex Police had found enough evidence to charge Whiting, and he appeared at Lewes Crown Court on charges of abduction and murder. He denied the charges and was remanded in custody to await trial.
The trial began on 14 November 2001 at Lewes Crown Court and the jury heard from several witnesses. The key witnesses included Sarah Payne's oldest brother Lee, who had seen a scruffy-looking man with yellowish teeth drive past the field where he and his siblings had been playing at the time Sarah vanished. A female motorist had found one of Sarah's shoes in a country lane several miles from where her body was found, and forensic scientists had found fibres from Whiting's van on the shoe. The damning piece of evidence was a strand of blonde hair on a T-shirt found in Whiting's van - the forensic experts who made this discovery said that DNA test results meant that there was a one-in-a-billion chance of it belonging to anyone other than Sarah.
This case is particularly notable for the extensive use of forensic sciences in establishing the prosecution case against Roy Whiting. 20 forensic experts were employed during the inquiry from a variety of fields including entomology, pathology, geology, archaeology, environmental profiling and oil/lubricant analysis. It has been estimated that the cost of the investigation involved a thousand personnel and cost more than £2 million.
On 12 December 2001, Roy Whiting was convicted of the abduction and murder of Sarah Payne and was sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial judge, Mr Justice Curtis, said that it was a rare case in which a life sentence should mean life. This was only the 24th time in British legal history that such a recommendation had been made.
After Whiting was convicted of killing Sarah Payne, it was revealed that he was already a convicted child sex offender; this proved correct the Payne family's belief that Sarah had been killed by a child sex offender. Whiting's previous conviction had until then been kept from the jury on the orders of the police, who felt that if they had heard details of his previous conviction and he had been found guilty, it would allow him to claim that he had been convicted on the basis of an earlier offence rather than the one for which he was being tried, paving the way for a potential successful appeal.
There were renewed calls for the government to allow controlled public access to the sex offender's register. This became the campaign for what is known as Sarah's Law, after the introduction of Megan's Law in the United States following a similar case several years earlier.
Attack in prison
On 4 August 2002 Whiting was attacked with a razor by another prisoner while fetching hot water at HMP Wakefield. Convicted killer Rickie Tregaskis was found guilty of carrying out the slashing which left Whiting with a six-inch scar on his right cheek. Tregaskis, serving life for the murder of a disabled man in Cornwall, received a six-year sentence for the attack.
David Blunkett's ruling
On 24 November 2002, Home Secretary David Blunkett made a landmark ruling. He ordered that Roy Whiting must serve a minimum of 50 years in prison. This would make him ineligible for parole until 2051, when, if he survived that long, he would be 92.
Within 48 hours of the ruling being made, the High Court and European Court of Human Rights had ruled in favour of another convicted of murder who was challenging the right of politicians to decide how long a murderer must spend in prison before being considered for parole.
Whiting's appeal against the ruling was heard on 9 June 2010 at the High Court, which now has the final say on how long a life sentence prisoner must serve before being considered for parole. His lawyers argued that Blunkett's decision was politically motivated, as he knew he was on the verge of being stripped of his powers to decide on minimum terms for life sentence prisoners, and that the government was under fire from the British public due to a firefighters strike. The High Court reduced Whiting's minimum term to 40 years, bringing forward his parole date to 2041, making him eligible for parole at the age of 82.