Defence lawyers tried to have Roy Whiting's case thrown out before it had begun, claiming media coverage would stop him getting a fair trial.

Sally O'Neill QC handed Judge Richard Curtis a file containing dozens of clippings from national and local newspapers, taken from when Sarah went missing to the day Whiting was charged.

She tried to convince the court the police and family's decision to obtain maximum publicity as they hunted for little Sarah had left an "indelible mark" on the public consciousness.

Miss O'Neill said: "Some cases capture the public's imagination in a way that others don't."

Looking around the packed Press bench and public gallery, filled with reporters busily scribbling away, she added: "It's apparent that this case still does."

She applied for the prosecution to be stayed.

Responding to the submission, Timothy Langdale QC, for the prosecution, referred to the cases of Rosemary West, Tracy Andrews and Michael Stone, which all received a similar or greater level of publicity.

He said the jury's role would be to try the case, mainly on the basis of the forensic evidence.

He said: "The nature and content of the publicity in this case was not so unusual that it cannot be dealt with in the trial process.

"The jury will be able to consider the issues in the case with their minds untainted."

Leafing through the cuttings the judge agreed there had been extensive coverage but did not accept a jury would be unable to put their recollection of the case aside when trying Whiting.

Mr Langdale also applied to be able to put the facts of Whiting's previous conviction for indecent assault before the jury but was told that would unfairly prejudice the trial.

Throughout the arguments Whiting sat slumped in the dock, his arms folded across his chest and chin resting on his hand.

He appeared to take little interest, gazing into the middle distance and frequently yawning.

December 12, 2001