The policeman said to Sarah Payne's parents: "I'm sorry to have to tell we have found a body. We believe it is Sarah."

At that moment Sarah's brothers and sisters Lee, 13, Luke, 11, and five-year-old Charlotte came running in from the lounge in floods of tears.

They had learned their sister was dead from a TV news bulletin.

Detective Superintendent Alan Ladley was one of those at Sarah's grandparents' home at Kingston Gorse, East Preston.

He said: "We were all in tears. Everyone had clung desperately to the hope Sarah was still alive."

Mr Ladley did not stay long. He needed to get to the shallow grave near Pulborough where Sarah's body lay.

But the scene earlier that day in the Paynes' home stayed with him. It was one of a number of occasions Mr Ladley and other police had broken down in tears.

Few around him, however, were aware that he was going through his own personal trauma.

When Mr Ladley, who co-led the Sarah inquiry, was not concentrating on bringing Whiting to justice, he was thinking of his wife as she battled breast cancer.

Sue Ladley, 44, had had two successful operations, a course of radiotherapy and is now undergoing chemotherapy, a last blast of drugs to ensure the disease has been eradicated.

Mrs Ladley, 46, continues to run her shop business, Gifts For Love in Middleton Road, Bognor, and her husband serves behind the counter at weekends - a relaxing change from the biggest case he has handled.

The shop opened on the same day Sarah disappeared and was one of the first to put up one of the hundreds of Missing Sarah posters printed by The Argus.

Mr Ladley said: "Sue and I spoke about the case a lot because Sarah went missing not far from where we live. It was local and had more significance."

His wife and their two daughters, aged 16 and 18, followed the case closely from day one.

He said: "They were all very supportive to me and I appreciated that, because for the first month the Sussex Police team and I were under a lot of pressure."

The pressure manifested itself during the first Press conference held by Sarah's parents after the girl's body was found: "We all shed tears. It was a very emotional moment."

It was by far his biggest case but not the most complex: "We had Whiting from day one. It was fairly straightforward policing work using obvious police methods."

But the public reaction was enormous, at times overwhelming. There were more than 17,000 calls to the incident room.

Some callers were unusual. They included clairvoyants, diviners, and some who had dreamed they knew who killed Sarah or where her body was. Several even drew complicated maps.

Police made a decision early on to discount all such calls: They had Whiting in their sights and were determined to keep focused, even though they had thrown their net nationwide.

This was the first case of its kind where every force in the country was asked to door-knock known child sex offenders.

Sussex Police wanted all their homes checked in case Sarah was being held prisoner or in case suspects' movements at the time of the abduction put them in the frame.

Hundreds of police hours were spent investigating Whiting and keeping watch on him while he remained free.

One surveillance officer hid in a large drainpipe watching Whiting at his father's home in Crawley while protesters gathered outside, some throwing stones.

Mr Ladley paid tribute to the Operation Maple team, the experts, the Forensic Science Service and members of the public who helped.

And he praised the Payne family: "I can't begin to imagine the torment they have been through over the past months but they have coped extremely well."

He has tried not to think too long about Sarah: "I can't imagine the pain and anguish she went through.

"A little girl abducted and put in fear in that van. It sounds awful. I just hope she died quickly, minutes after being taken. I will never forget her or the case.

"The crime Whiting committed clearly was heinous and the worst imaginable.

"I am not sure what the word evil means but the fact that Whiting showed no remorse and did nothing to minimise the pain for Sarah's family - he did nothing to help us find her body or admit his guilt and he showed no compassion for anyone - I suppose makes him evil.

"There was a great deal of satisfaction for the whole Maple team and for Sussex because I know that if we had not convicted Roy Whiting he would have abducted and killed another little girl.

"The pleasure for us, if that is the right word to use, was in the knowledge that we had stopped him doing it again."

December 12, 2001