Sarah Payne was not the first schoolgirl whom paedophile Roy Whiting abducted and sexually assaulted.

However, the nine-year-old he bundled into the back of his car in 1995 was lucky enough to escape with her life.

Roy William Whiting, born on January 26, 1959 had already been sentenced to four years in prison for the sex attack on the girl, who was roughly Sarah's age.

The circumstances were almost identical.

Whiting, then 36, had gone "off sick" from work in the days leading up to the attack on his first known victim.

The nine-year-old had been playing with two eight-year-old friends on Saturday June 4 around the Ifield estate in Crawley - Whiting's home town.

Whiting pulled up beside them in his Ford Sierra, which he was to modify after the attack, as with his white Fiat Ducato van following Sarah's kidnap.

The schoolgirl's friends managed to escape but the nine-year-old was thrown into the "dirty, smelly" red Sierra.

The girl described in the ensuing court case how Whiting forced her into the footwell in the rear passenger compartment and drove away.

A witness made a 999 call and a full-scale search was launched.

In the car the girl was told to keep down as Whiting drove for ten minutes to a secluded copse.

When she asked where they were going Whiting told her he had a knife and repeatedly told her to "shut up", but at one stage the terrified girl asked him to ring her mum and dad.

After stopping the car he ordered the girl to undress and sit in the front seat, which he had reclined. Five years later Sarah's body was to be found unclothed.

When she refused to co-operate with his perversion, he threatened her with a piece of rope. She remembered him saying 'I'll tie up your mouth.'

Whiting finally drove away, dumping the girl at a church near her home from where she ran to find her parents.

A massive police hunt had been launched for the schoolgirl and she described her ordeal to police officers already at her home.

A week later, detectives arrived at Whiting's garage in Bonnets Lane, Crawley.

The normally grubby, unhygienic individual had tried to clean himself up, as he did after Sarah's murder.

He told them he had recently sold a red Sierra, having purchased it himself only a couple of weeks previously.

Whiting was interviewed and said the car had been in his possession all day, but he had been out of the Crawley area during the relevant times.

Finally he made a full and frank admission, but was unable to give any reason for his actions.

He expressed deep regret and a wish that the young girl should not suffer further by attending court.

He told police he had left work early, driven to a nearby shopping precinct, got out of his car and spotted the three girls, whom he thought were aged between 11 and 13.

He said he opened the rear door of the car and shouted at the girls to get in. Two screamed and ran but he managed to grab one around the waist and throw her inside.

He said he pulled up and ordered her to strip, then touched her.

He said when she refused to touch him he told her to put her clothes on.

He said he had been panicking during the incident and could not explain why he had done it. He said simply: "Something snapped."

On June 3 1995 he was sentenced to four years in prison.

Five years later and news of Sarah's disappearance and murder hit the headlines.

The first victim and her mother, who live in Crawley, were contacted by police days after Whiting was first questioned in July last year.

The mother sobbed: "How could this happen again?"

Her daughter, now 14, was trying to put the terrible childhood trauma behind her.

Detective Superintendent Alan Ladley said: "They have both been utterly shocked. Her mother, particularly, is suffering what is called 'survivor guilt'.

"Her little girl survived what was an horrific attack and just as she was getting over it she realised another little girl had been subjected to a similar attack and had later died.

"It has been a hell of a trauma and had a very worrying effect on them both."

December 12, 2001