Murder of Sarah Payne

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Sarah Payne
Sarah Payne.jpg
Sarah Evelyn Isobel Payne

13 October 1991
Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England
Diedc. 1 July 2000(2000-07-01) (aged 8)
Cause of deathStrangulation, suffocation or a combination of both[1]
Body discoveredPulborough, West Sussex,
17 July 2000[2]
Parent(s)Michael and Sara Payne

Sarah Evelyn Isobel Payne (13 October 1991[3] – c. 1 July 2000),[4] an 8-year-old school girl, was the victim of a high-profile abduction and murder in England in July 2000. The subsequent investigation became a prominent case in the United Kingdom. Her murderer, Roy Whiting, was convicted in December 2001 and sentenced to life imprisonment.[5][6][7]

Roy Whiting[edit]

Roy Whiting
Roy Whiting.jpg
Roy Whiting
Roy William Whiting

(1959-01-26) 26 January 1959 (age 60)
Horsham, West Sussex, England
OccupationCar mechanic, delivery worker, building labourer
Criminal statusIncarcerated at HM Prison Wakefield
Linda Booker (m. 1986⁠–⁠1990)
Conviction(s)Indecent assault, theft, dangerous driving, abduction, murder
Criminal penaltyLife imprisonment (minimum term of 40 years)

Roy William Whiting was born in Horsham hospital in West Sussex on 26 January 1959.[8] He was one of six children born to George and Pamela Whiting, but three of his siblings died in infancy; his only surviving siblings were an older brother and younger sister.[citation needed] He grew up in Langley Green, Crawley.[9] He attended Jordan's primary school, then Ifield secondary school.[10][better source needed] In June 1986 he married Linda Booker in Ifield, West Sussex. They separated before their son was born in July 1987 and divorced in 1990.[8]

Whiting was involved in banger racing during the late 1980s, but abandoned his interest in the sport due to a lack of success.[6]

First conviction[edit]

On 4 March 1995, a nine-year-old girl was abducted and sexually assaulted in the Langley Green area of Crawley. Whiting 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, which matched the description of the car that Whiting had just sold. The vehicle was then traced by police to its new owner and a knife was found hidden in it; the victim had claimed that her abductor had told her he had a knife in his possession.[11][better source needed]

Three months later, Whiting admitted charges of abduction and indecent assault, and was sentenced to four years in prison. The maximum sentence for the crime was life imprisonment; however, he received a lesser sentence because he had admitted to the crime at an early opportunity, although a psychiatrist who assessed Whiting after his conviction said that he was likely to re-offend once he was released.[12]

Whiting was released from prison in November 1997, having served 2 years and 5 months of his 4-year sentence, and was one of the first people in Britain to go on the sex offenders' register. He had been forced to serve an extra five months in prison before being released on licence as penalty for refusing to undergo a sex offenders rehabilitation course.[13]

Whiting moved 40 km (25 mi) away from Crawley to Littlehampton on the West Sussex coast, upon his release.[10][better source needed]

Sarah Payne's disappearance[edit]

Sarah Payne, who lived in Hersham, Surrey, disappeared on the evening of 1 July 2000 from a cornfield near the home of her paternal grandparents, Terence and Lesley Payne, in Kingston Gorse, West Sussex, England.[14] Payne had been playing with her two elder brothers (aged 13 and 11 at the time) and younger sister (aged 6).[15] A nationwide search commenced within 48 hours, and Payne's parents made numerous television and newspaper appeals for her safe return. On the evening of 2 July 2000, officers from Sussex Police first visited Whiting making inquiries into Payne's disappearance. A number of other suspects were also questioned and at least one other arrest is known to have been made.[16]

Police officers and numerous volunteers scoured the area around Littlehampton for clues to Sarah's disappearance, and her family made daily appeals on national television news for help in finding Sarah. On 10 July, police announced that they had received information regarding the sighting of a girl who matched Sarah's description at Knutsford Services on the M6 motorway in Cheshire on the morning after her disappearance. Three days later, Michael and Sara Payne were warned by police to "prepare for the worst", explaining that the emphasis of their inquiries had shifted and that there was a possibility that their daughter might not be found safe and well.[4]

On 17 July, a body was found in a field near Pulborough, some 24 km (15 mi) from Kingston Gorse where she had disappeared. Within 24 hours, forensic science tests confirmed that the body was that of Sarah Payne, and Sussex Police began a murder investigation.[17]

Murder investigation[edit]

Whiting was first questioned about the disappearance of Payne, which had taken place about 8 km (5 mi) from Whiting's home, some 24 hours after she went missing. Whiting was routinely questioned as he had been placed on the sex offender registry. On the officers' first visit to Whiting's home earlier that day, he was not there. The police returned five hours later and questioned Whiting for over an hour before leaving.[18]

Soon after questioning, Whiting walked to his van, but was stopped by undercover police and arrested.[18] Whiting spent two days in custody, but there was no evidence to press any charges and Whiting was released on bail. Police had found a receipt for fuel from Buck Barn garage on the A24, not far from Coolham where one of Payne's shoes was found.[19][better source needed][20] This contradicted his alibi of being at a funfair in Hove at 5:30 pm and then returning to his flat by 9:30 pm on the night that Payne had disappeared.[21]

On 20 July, a shoe was recovered from a roadside in the village of Coolham, three miles from Pulborough, and identified as one of those belonging to Sarah Payne.[15]

On 23 July 2000, Whiting stole a Vauxhall Nova and was pursued by police at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) before crashing into a parked vehicle. Whiting was arrested on a charge of dangerous driving. Whiting was remanded in custody until 27 September 2000, when he admitted taking the car and driving dangerously and was jailed for 22 months.[4]

After Whiting began his jail term for the car theft and dangerous driving, detectives carried out forensic tests on his 1988 white Fiat Ducato van, which he had bought on 23 June 2000. On 6 February 2001, following a police enquiry, Whiting was charged with the abduction and murder of Sarah Payne.[5]


By 6 February 2001, Sussex Police had enough evidence to press charges against Whiting, who appeared at Lewes Crown Court that day, charged with abduction and murder. Whiting pleaded not guilty to both charges and was remanded in custody, with his trial due to start on 14 November 2001. He was still serving his sentence for the motoring offences at this stage, but the new charges against him prevented his release from prison during the summer of that year for the motoring offences.[22]

On 14 November 2001, at Lewes Crown Court, the jury heard from several witnesses. The key witnesses included Payne's oldest brother who had seen a 'scruffy-looking man with yellowish teeth' drive by. However, Lee Payne did not pick out Whiting when he was selected for an identity parade.[23] One of Payne's shoes was found by a member of the public in a country lane and forensic tests had found fibres from Whiting's van on the shoe. This was the only item of Payne's clothing to be recovered.[24] A strand of blonde hair on a T-shirt was found in Whiting's van. A DNA test established there was a one-in-a-billion chance of it belonging to anyone other than Payne.[25]

On 12 December 2001, after a four-week trial before Mr Justice Curtis and a jury, Whiting was convicted of the abduction and murder of Payne and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial judge said it was a rare case in which a life sentence should mean life.[26]

After Whiting was convicted, his previous convictions were revealed; it had previously been withheld from the jury and media amid police fears that any knowledge in court of his previous conviction could jeopardize the trial and in the event of being convicted, Whiting would argue that he had been tried on the evidence of an earlier crime, paving the way for a potentially successful appeal. There were renewed calls for the government to allow controlled public access to the sex offender's register, although the Home Office commented the day after Whiting's conviction that such a system would be "unworkable" and run the risk of driving paedophiles "underground", making it more difficult for the police to monitor and locate them, as well as putting them in danger of vigilante attacks.[27]

This case is also notable for the extensive use of forensic sciences in establishing the prosecution case against Whiting. Twenty forensic experts from a variety of fields were employed during the inquiry, including entomology, palynology/environmental profiling, pathology, geology, archaeology, and oil/lubricant analysis. It has been estimated[28] that the investigation involved one thousand personnel and cost more than £2 million.


On 24 November 2002, Home Secretary David Blunkett ordered that Roy Whiting must serve a minimum of 50 years in prison. This made him ineligible for parole until 2051, meaning that he would have to live to be at least 92 before parole could be considered; this was in effect an agreement with the trial judge's recommendation of a whole life tariff.[29] Within 48 hours of the ruling being made, the Law Lords and the European Court of Human Rights had ruled in favour of another convicted murderer (Anthony Anderson) who was challenging the right of politicians to decide how long a murderer must spend in prison before being considered for parole.[30]

In June 2004, it was confirmed that Whiting would be applying to the Court of Appeal for a new minimum term to be set.[31] On 9 June 2010, Whiting's appeal resulted in his 50-year jail term being reduced by 10 years by a High Court judge. Whiting's lawyers argued that the 50-year tariff, imposed just before the power of Home Secretaries to determine how long prisoners sentenced to life should serve lapsed, was politically motivated; the decision was also made at a time when the government was under fire from the public and media over a firefighters strike. Mr Justice Simon said that under 2010 sentencing guidelines, Whiting may have received a whole life tariff, but apparently arrived at the 40-year term by retroactively applying guidelines from the time of the original sentencing. Whiting is now serving a 40-year minimum term, which is set to keep him in prison until at least 2041, when he will be 82. Payne's mother, Sara, was present and said she was "disappointed" by the decision and "life should mean life".[32]


Sarah's Law[edit]

The campaign for Sarah's Law was spearheaded by the News of the World newspaper, and began in July 2000 in response to the murder of Sarah Payne. Sarah Payne's parents backed up the campaign as they were sure that a child sex offender had been responsible for their daughter's death. Their belief was proved correct 17 months later when Roy Whiting was found guilty of killing Sarah Payne, and it was revealed that he already had a conviction for abducting and indecently assaulting an eight-year-old girl.

The aim of the campaign was for the government to allow controlled access to the sex offender registry, so parents with young children could know if a child sex-offender was living in their area. Sarah Payne's mother has always insisted that such a law would have saved her daughter's life.

A modified scheme where parents can enquire about a named individual was introduced in four pilot areas of England and Wales in September 2008. In August 2010 the Home Office announced that after proving successful, the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme would be extended to cover the whole of England and Wales by spring 2011.[33]

Payne family[edit]

Payne's mother, Sara Payne, has subsequently written a book, Sara Payne: A Mother's Story, about her daughter's murder and the aftermath, including her campaign for Sarah's Law. The book was published in 2004.[3]

In July 2001, it was reported that Payne's parents received £11,000 compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, an executive agency of the UK Government. Sara Payne described the offer as a "sick joke" and "derisory", even though it was the maximum CICA could offer by law.[34]

Sara Payne was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in December 2008 for her work behind Sarah's Law.[35] In December 2011, she suffered a life-threatening stroke and collapsed while at her home.[36]

In July 2011 it was revealed that Sara Payne had been among those targeted in the News International phone hacking scandal.[37] Payne refused to believe it, since they had been so helpful in championing Sarah's Law. She even wrote an editorial in the newspaper's final edition. Investigators initially thought she was not hacked because her name did not come up in records. However, personal details relating to her were found that were attributed to another suspected victim. Sara's phone that was hacked was given to her by the News of the World's editor at the time of the murder, Rebekah Brooks.

Payne's father, Michael, suffered from depression following the disappearance of his daughter.[38] He separated from his wife of 18 years in August 2003, and subsequently became an alcoholic, leading to a 16-month jail term for attacking his brother with a glass in December 2011, during a drunken incident. On 30 October 2014, he was found dead at his home in Maidstone, Kent; police reported there were no suspicious circumstances.[38]

Roy Whiting[edit]

On 4 August 2002, Whiting was attacked with a razor by another prisoner while fetching hot water at Wakefield Prison. Convicted killer Rickie Tregaskis (serving life imprisonment with a 25-year recommended minimum for the 1997 murder of a disabled man in Cornwall) was found guilty of carrying out the slashing which left Whiting with a six-inch scar on his right cheek.[39] Tregaskis received a six-year sentence (to run concurrently alongside his life sentence) after being found guilty on a wounding charge relating to the attack on Whiting. This will not mean that he will have to serve any extra time in prison if the Parole Board decides that he can be freed on life licence.[citation needed]

In July 2011, Whiting was again attacked in prison, this time stabbed in the eye. No charge was pressed by Whiting and consequently a police investigation into the assault was not undertaken. Whiting's injuries were not life-threatening.[40]

He was attacked again on 8 November 2018, when he was stabbed by two other prisoners in his cell at HMP Wakefield. He was taken to hospital for treatment but returned to prison shortly after in a stable condition.[41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Payne, Stewart (21 November 2001). "Sarah's parents overwhelmed as jury hears of her 'violent death'". UK News. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  2. ^ Sapsted, David (18 July 2000). "Sarah: body is found 12 miles away". UK News. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  3. ^ a b Payne, Sara (2004). Sara Payne: A Mother's Story. England: Hodder & Stoughton. 240 pages. ISBN 978-0-340-86275-9.
  4. ^ a b c "Sarah Payne: the timetable". Society. The Guardian. 12 December 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Sarah murder suspect rearrested". BBC News. 6 February 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Sarah accused was a 'loner'". UK. BBC News. 21 November 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  7. ^ "2000: Sarah Payne's body found". On This Day. BBC News. 18 July 2000. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  8. ^ a b "Hidden history of sex assaults". UK News. The Scotsman. 13 December 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  9. ^ "A man who revelled in his own filth". News. Evening Standard. 12 December 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  10. ^ a b "EVIL SEX BEAST". News. Crawley and Horley Observer. 2 May 2018. Retrieved 5 February 2018.
  11. ^ Weathers, Helen (n.d.). "Roy Whiting's first victim". News. Daily Mail. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  12. ^ Payne, Stewart (13 December 2001). "How Roy Whiting was freed to kill". UK News. The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  13. ^ "Killer refused treatment". News. The Daily Telegraph. 12 December 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  14. ^ "New Sarah Payne jury sworn in". News. The Daily Telegraph. 15 December 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  15. ^ a b "Timeline: The Sarah Payne tragedy". England. BBC News. 12 December 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  16. ^ "I was nowhere near Sarah - Whiting". England. BBC News. 4 December 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  17. ^ "British police confirm body is Sarah Payne's". This Britain. The Independent. 17 July 2000. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  18. ^ a b "A loner with a deadly secret". Society. The Guardian. 12 December 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  19. ^ Harris, Paul (n.d.). "'I am here to tell you the truth'". News. Daily Mail. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  20. ^ Gould, Peter (12 December 2001). "Snatched on a summer's evening". England. BBC News. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  21. ^ "Sarah accused gave funfair alibi". UK. BBC News. 2 May 2018. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  22. ^ "Man charged with Sarah murder". UK. BBC News. 6 February 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  23. ^ "Sarah Payne killer 'smiled at her brother'". UK news. The Guardian. 14 November 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  24. ^ "Police examine Sarah 'shoe'". UK. BBC News. 20 July 2000. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  25. ^ "Hair clue 'one in a billion'". England. BBC News. 28 November 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  26. ^ "Whiting guilty of Sarah murder". England. BBC News. 12 December 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  27. ^ "Sarah's Law 'unworkable'". England. BBC News. 13 December 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  28. ^ Acford, Louise. "Sarah Payne investigation cost nearly £3m". Argus on line newspaper. Newsquest, a Gannet company. Retrieved 4 July 2019.
  29. ^ "Sarah Payne killer to serve 50-year term". UK. BBC News. 24 November 2002. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  30. ^ "Lords defy Blunkett on life sentences". Politics. BBC News. 25 November 2002. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  31. ^ Townsend, Mark (12 March 2006). "Sarah Payne's killer in plea for early release". UK news. The Observer. Retrieved 2 May 2018 – via The Guardian.
  32. ^ "Sarah Payne killer Roy Whiting's jail term reduced". UK. BBC News. 9 June 2010. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  33. ^ "Police doubt 'Sarah's Law' will cause vigilante attacks". UK. BBC News. 1 August 2010. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  34. ^ "Sarah's mother attacks 'sick' offer". UK. BBC News. 29 July 2001. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  35. ^ "Campaigner Sara Payne becomes MBE". UK. BBC News. 31 December 2008. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  36. ^ "Sara Payne home from hospital after 'collapsing'". England. BBC News. 13 December 2011. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  37. ^ Davies, Nick; Hill, Amelia (28 July 2011). "News of the World targeted phone of Sarah Payne's mother". Media. The Guardian. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  38. ^ a b Quinn, Ben (30 October 2014). "Father of Sarah Payne, who had struggled since her murder, found dead at his home". UK news. The Guardian. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  39. ^ "Man guilty of Sarah killer attack". England. BBC News. 25 June 2004. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  40. ^ "Inmate Gary Vinter sentenced for Roy Whiting attack". England. BBC News. 21 November 2012. Retrieved 2 May 2018.
  41. ^ "Sarah Payne killer Roy Whiting attacked and stabbed by inmate at HMP Wakefield".

External links[edit]