whiting out

Murder of Sarah Payne

The murder of Sarah Payne (13 October 1991 – 1 July 2000) occurred in July 2000. The victim was Sarah Evelyn Isobel Payne, who was murdered by car mechanic Roy William Whiting. The subsequent investigation became a high profile murder case in the United Kingdom. Following his conviction, Whiting was imprisoned and is currently being held in the maximum security Wakefield Prison, West Yorkshire.

Whiting's background

Born in Horsham, West Sussex, England, Roy Whiting was the second of three children born to George and Pamela Whiting, who divorced during the 1970s. He had an older brother, Peter, and a younger sister, Gillian.

Whiting attended Ifield Community College and left 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 June 1986 he married Linda Booker in Ifield, West Sussex, who became pregnant the same year. They separated in April 1987, just before the birth of their son, divorcing in 1990.

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

Whiting's first conviction

On 4 March 1995, an eight-year-old girl was abducted and sexually assaulted in Langley Green, 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.

Three months later, Whiting admitted 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 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.

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 on St. Augustine's Road. In late 1999, he moved into another flat on the same road, one of six flats in a 19th century seafront building.

Sarah Payne's disappearance

Sarah Payne disappeared on 1 July 2000 from a cornfield near the home of her grandparents (Terence and Lesley Payne) in Kingston Gorse, West Sussex, England, where she had been playing with her brothers and sister (aged between five and 13 at the time). A nationwide search was under way within 48 hours, and Sarah's parents made numerous television appeals for her safe return. On 2 July 2000, officers from Sussex Police visited Whiting's flat making inquiries into the disappearance of Sarah Payne.

On 17 July, a girl's body was found in a field near Pulborough, some 15 miles (24 km) from the village of Kingston Gorse (near Littlehampton) where Sarah had disappeared. The following day, forensic science tests confirmed that the body was Sarah's, and the Sussex Police began a murder investigation.

Murder investigation

Whiting was questioned about the disappearance of Sarah Payne, whose disappearance had taken place about five 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, 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 returned to his flat by 9.30 p.m. on the night that Sarah had disappeared .

When Whiting was released on bail, he went to live with his father in Crawley while his flat on Saint Augustine's Road was being searched by forensic scientists. No evidence was found in Whiting's flat to suggest that Sarah had been there.

Whiting was subsequently re-arrested on 31 July 2000. Despite Sarah's body being discovered just 3 miles (5 km) from the service station where Whiting had bought fuel on the night of the disappearance, and Whiting's 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 following 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. Whiting's father moved out of the house afterwards, fearing for his own safety.

On 21 July 2000, he took to the road in a stolen Vauxhall Nova car and was pursued by police at speeds of up to 70mph before he crashed into a parked vehicle and was arrested on dangerous driving charges. He was remanded in custody until 27 September 2000, when he admitted taking the car and driving dangerously. He was jailed for 22 months.

When Whiting began his jail term for the car theft, detectives were able to carry out forensic tests on his F-registered white Fiat Ducato van, which he had bought on 23 June 2000. On 6 February 2001, following a police enquiry, Roy Whiting was charged with the murder of Sarah Payne .

The trial

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's oldest brother Lee (five years older than her), 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. However, Lee had failed to pick Whiting out of an identity parade during the early days of the investigation. Female motorist Deborah Bray 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. This was the only item of Sarah's clothing to be recovered. Also 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 the victim Sarah Payne.

This case is particularly 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, 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, Whiting was convicted of the abduction and murder of Sarah Payne, and he was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. The trial judge, Richard Curtis, said that it was a rare case in which a life sentence should mean life.

The Sarah Payne murder, and many other cases of killings committed by serial sex offenders before and since, has led to continued calls from the public for the wider use of life sentences for child sex offenders.

After Whiting was convicted of killing Sarah Payne, it was revealed that he was already a convicted child sex offender. 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" as well as putting them in danger of vigilante attacks.

Attack in prison

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 20-year recommended minimum for the 1999 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.

In June 2004, 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 Roy Whiting. This will not mean that he will have to serve any extra time in prison when (and if) the Parole Board decides that he can be freed on life licence.

David Blunkett's ruling

On 24 November 2002, Home Secretary David Blunkett made a landmark ruling, ordering that Roy Whiting must serve a minimum of 50 years in prison. This would make him ineligible for parole until 2051, when he would be 92 years old.

Within 48 hours of the ruling being made, 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.

In June 2004, it was confirmed that Whiting would be applying to the Court of Appeal for a new minimum term to be set, although his appeal has yet to be heard.

Sarah's Law

Sarah's Law was a campaign spearheaded by the News of the World newspaper which began in July 2000 in response to the murder of Sarah Payne. Sarah'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, 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 Offenders Register, so parents with young children could know if a child sex-offender was living in their area. Sarah's mother has always insisted that such a law would have saved Sarah's life.

International parallels

The concept of Sarah's Law is similar to Megan's Law, which operates in the USA in honour of murder victim Megan Kanka, who was raped and murdered by her neighbour Jesse Timmendequas in 1994. After the killer's trial, it was revealed that he was a convicted child rapist. Megan's Law even shows photographs and addresses of sex offenders. Sarah's Law would give lesser details, probably only the knowledge that a child sex offender was living in a certain area.

Debate over effectiveness

There has been considerable debate over the effectiveness of Megan's Law and therefore, by implication, Sarah's Law. Issues raised have included:

  • The risk of "vigilante" actions. This has been demonstrated in the U.S. where those on the sex offenders register have been the victims of violence and in several cases people on the register have been killed. There have also been cases of mistaken identity, where people have been attacked despite not being sex offenders.
  • The increased stereotyping of those on the sex offenders register. This may lead to a reduction in the ability of offenders to find housing and employment, thus leading to their being ostracised and therefore being more likely to reoffend.
  • The lack of "finesse" of American definitions of "sex offender". In the USA, this has led those being convicted of urinating in a public place (which is classified as "indecent exposure") as sex offenders, and being placed on the register with those convicted of more serious offences such as rape.
  • The increased risk of sex offenders avoiding registration with offender management services. In the USA, this figure stands at around 80%, compared with 97% in the UK. it has been suggested that the risk of harm mentioned above deters offenders from registering.
  • The nature of offending is seriously mis-represented by "Sarah's Law". Research suggests that reoffending rates over a six year period run at around 8.5%. Thus, it may be suggested that reoffending is not the problem that is suggested by some commentators.
  • Relationships of offenders to victims. In terms of rape, 83% of attackers are known to their victims and 54% are partners or former partners. These statistics suggest that "stranger danger" has been exaggerated.


Sarah 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.

In July 2001, it was reported that Payne's parents received £11,000 compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. The offer was described as a "sick jokeand "derisory".


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