Police have been able to find little in the family life of Whiting to explain his horrific actions.

He grew up in a three-bed end-of-terrace house in Martyrs Avenue in Langley Green, Crawley.

His mother Pamela left the family home when he was in his teens, leaving his father George to bring up Whiting, his elder brother and sister Gillian.

Pamela, now called Green, lives in Littlehampton. She appeared in court several times during her son's three-week trial, sitting anonymously in the public gallery. Whiting's father and siblings did not attend.

Neighbours remember how, barely into his teens, Whiting was most often seen in his blue boiler suit, covered head to foot in oil, tinkering with vehicles on the road outside the family home.

He attended the nearby Ifield School but struggled with academic work and left aged 16 in 1975.

After trying his hand at a string of manual jobs he finally became a mechanic, setting up on his own and building up trade through word of mouth.

Throughout his teens and 20s Whiting devoted much of his spare time to running a club for local teenagers, repairing and racing bangers with help from his best friend Ian Hodder, now club manager at Crawley RFC's ground in Willoughby Fields.

Mr Hodder refused to talk about his one-time companion.

Darren Ayling, 36, was one of the team.

He said: "I was about 14 when I first went along there. Roy and Ian were brilliant with us.

"There were two sheds on the adventure playground at the end of Cherry Lane. One was used for table tennis and pool and they used the other to do up these scrap cars.

"They taught us how to drive and I remember once they took us up to a demolition derby in Wembley. Roy did a lot for the kids in the area."

In June 1986, aged 27, Whiting married the petrol pump attendant whom he had met two years earlier on a filling station forecourt.

The couple moved to Bonnetts Lane, Ifield, but their tempestuous relationship ended in separation six months later.

Four months on his estranged wife gave birth to their son, now 15.

They divorced in 1989. Whiting was by then living in the room above his workshop in Bonnetts Lane.

Now 37, the mother of his teenage son has not seen her ex-husband since 1995, the first time he was imprisoned.

The woman, who has reverted to her maiden name, told how Whiting became consumed with jealousy because she was earning more money than he was. She said he became unbearable.

She has since destroyed almost all of her photographs from their time together, including their wedding album.

If the breakdown of his marriage and, later, his business triggered a spiral of decline it was not immediately apparent.

In 1987, he joined Kirkham Motors, an MOT test centre on an industrial estate in Priestley Way, Crawley.

Colleagues there remember him as being a "very ordinary bloke."

He left Kirkham Garage to join a Renault workshop near Charlewood, north of Crawley, in 1991. The garage has since closed down.

By then friends say he had hitched up with several different girls. They remember one who was in her early 20s.

He stayed at the garage until the 1995 court case. It was the first time he had been in serious trouble with the law and it came like a bolt from the blue for his colleagues.

Mr Ayling said: "No one could believe it when he was arrested.

"After he had come out of prison no one wanted to know him. He moved down to Littlehampton. I guess he wanted to try to start a new life."

Another old acquaintance said: "There was talk he had split up with a girlfriend and that had pushed him to it, but as far as we were all concerned he was scum.

"Now this has happened I think the only place any of want to see him is rotting in prison."

After his release in late 1997, Whiting knew he would not be welcome back in Crawley.

Instead he asked to be rehoused in Littlehampton, near his mother, and found a bedsit on the seafront in St Augustine Road.

The run-down Regency house, converted into eight flats, overlooks a children's' play area with views out to sea.

At first he did his best to fit in, meeting up with a group of five regulars at Oscar's, a cafe nearby.

A creature of habit, he always asked to sit at table number seven and ordered a cheeseburger and two mugs of tea.

But the group fell apart and he became, say police, an "archetypal Billy No-Mates".

Those who knew him noticed a lack of personal hygiene. He was often scruffy and unshaven with lank, greasy hair.

He smoked heavily but proudly insists, like a recovering alcoholic, he had not had a drink for 15 years.

In prison, instead of attending a class of rehabilitation for sexual offenders, Whiting chose to learn basics of the building trade.

He worked as a jobbing builder for at least two bosses who found they had little in common with him and rarely socialised outside work.

One of his jobs led him to a house in East Preston, near Kingston Gorse where, during lunchtimes, he walked the owners' dog around nearby fields.

Police believe it may have been then that he first spotted the secluded play area to which he returned on July 1.

He had been off work for two weeks on the day he snatched Sarah, complaining of a "twisted gut". In fact, he had not been unwell but was considering moving out of the area to try another fresh start in Devon or Dover.

Whiting was picked up by police 24 hours after Sarah's disappearance. He appeared flustered and unhelpful, refusing to answer questions as detectives begged for any information about Sarah.

Det Sgt Steve Wagstaff pulled up alongside his van and ordered him to step outside.

He said: "His demeanour was extremely nervous. He was visibly shaking. He had problems turning off the engine of the van. His hands were shaking and he was sweating."

Visiting his squalid flat they found overflowing ashtrays, dirty dishes and clothes strewn across the floor and the bath encrusted with scum. There was no evidence Sarah had been there.

Detective Sergeant Chris Saunders said: "We'd been out all day talking to members of the public about Sarah and everyone was concerned and wanted to help.

"With Whiting we just got a blank expression. There was something about him. He wasn't concerned she had gone missing. Even other people on the sex offenders' list had been worried."

Whiting was arrested and questioned for 92 hours before being released without charge. Police said he appeared unphased, calm and almost bored with the proceedings.

He certainly gave no indication he understood the severity of the charge hanging over him.

Det Insp Jeff Riley, who conducted the interview, said: "He was cold. He was quite nonchalant. When you put questions to him about what Sarah and her family was going through there was absolute coldness."

Whiting was not able to return to the seafront flat which had been sealed off for a forensic examination.

The other tenants were also moved out of the block as detectives spent two weeks searching for clues.

Today, there are only two people living there, both of whom have moved in during the past six months.

Whiting went back to live with his father in Crawley but both were forced to leave two weeks later when, as the news spread through the estate, a vigilante mob gathered outside the house.

The house is now home to an Asian family who know nothing of its former occupants.

A neighbour said: "George lived on his own most of the time but Roy's sister would visit quite often. We never heard anything from Roy until the Sarah Payne thing all started.

"He came back to live here and all hell broke loose on the estate, with reporters and TV cameras everywhere."

His father had to be escorted under a blanket from his home past the baying crowds. He no longer lives in Crawley, although it is thought he wants to return to the town in the future.

Whiting began sleeping rough in a tent pitched in a field behind houses in Crawley. As public feeling intensified he became paranoid he would be hounded out again.

He took up home on the road in a stolen Vauxhall Nova.

On the night of July 22, five days after Sarah's body was found, police recognised the vehicle as stolen and tailed him.

He roared off, triggering a high-speed chase in which he tried to ram two police cars, hurtled along pavements and across playing fields, and reversed down a busy A-road at 30mph.

The Vauxhall was written off in the chase and Whiting was arrested.

He was eventually jailed for 22 months after admitting dangerous driving and taking a vehicle without consent. Prison was perhaps the only place where he felt safe.

He was questioned for a second time about Sarah's disappearance on July 31 when her naked body was found in a shallow grave in Pulborough, 15 miles from the site where she was abducted.

He was finally charged on February 6 and appeared in Chichester Magistrates Court the following day.

When he later appeared at Lewes Crown Court, wearing black jeans and a grey T-shirt, he smiled and yawned through much of the ten-minute hearing.

Back in court for the trial, Whiting at first made little effort to impress jurors with his demeanour.

The heavy jowls of his angular face fixed in an almost permanent sneer, he yawned frequently, rocking back and forth in the dock throughout the first trial.

When the jury was scrapped and the trial relaunched he began to make notes, poring over the sheaves of evidence as they were placed before him.

But when he gave evidence even his defence barrister Sally O'Neill confessed under her breath: "He has completely ostracised the jury."

He made the choice to give evidence but became aggressive and snappy as he struggled to answer Timothy Langdale QC's barrage of questions.

It was as if he believed he could convince the jury of his innocence simply by his down-to-earth responses: "I've got nothing to hide."

Only when his barrister declined the opportunity to re-examine him did he realise, maybe for the first time, the impression he had made on the court.

For the remaining days of the trial he slouched in the dock, resting his head on his hands. The sneer had vanished.

December 12, 2001