Fragments of evidence against Sarah Payne's alleged killer Roy Whiting build up a picture of "unmistakable clarity", a court heard.

In the closing minutes of his prosecution speech at Lewes Crown Court yesterday, Mr Timothy Langdale said the forensic and witness evidence, combined with Whiting's own "lies" in the witness box, provided compelling proof of his guilt.

Mr Langdale ended his three-hour summing-up by returning to what he has described as the single most important piece of evidence - a solitary strand of Sarah's blonde hair found on a red sweatshirt seized from 42-year-old Whiting's white van.

He said it was "damning proof" and "really fatal" to the defence.

Throughout the 15 days of Whiting's trial, the jury has been told it would be "absolutely astonishing" if direct proof of Whiting's alleged acts - snatching, strangling and burying the schoolgirl - had been found.

Mr Langdale said: "Nobody is going to allow themselves to be filmed when they bury a body at the dead of night in a field.

"It's hardly surprising we cannot put before you every part of the jigsaw. It would be remarkable if that was the case.

"However, the prosecution submit there are so many pieces of the jigsaw available that the picture itself emerges with unmistakable clarity.

"The picture is of this man, despite his denial, being the man who seized Sarah Payne on that Saturday evening, killed her and buried her body in that field."

Whiting denies kidnap and murder.

Mr Langdale reminded the jury of the central planks of evidence on which the prosecution based its case.

He turned to Whiting's account of his activities on July 1 last year, the evening Sarah vanished, in which the defendant said he had been at a funfair in Hove before deciding to visit his father in Crawley, changing his mind half way and returning to his flat in St Augustine Road, Littlehampton.

Mr Langdale said that version of events differed from the account he had given to police on July 2, the night he was arrested.

He said: "The fact is, Whiting was decidedly shifty in the answers he gave to police and, you might, think decidedly shifty in the witness box.

"Why? Because, the prosecution suggest, he was not telling the truth."

Mr Langdale questioned why Whiting had not shown the slightest concern about Sarah's disappearance when initially quizzed by police, even though he was familiar with the area from which she vanished.

He said: "There was not one query, not one comment. He clammed up. You may conclude the reason he did not ask was because he did not need to ask."

Mr Langdale told the jury Whiting had lied to police about his whereabouts on the day of his first arrest, not telling them about his trips to a DIY store or to a petrol station in Littlehampton where he this week revealed he pressure-washed the interior of the van after ripping out its wooden lining.

Referring to Whiting's testimony to the court, Mr Langdale remarked on his "evasiveness" to "awkward" questions.

He said: "He not only gave wholly unconvincing answers but contradicted himself."

Mr Langdale reminded the jury of the 22 fibres found on clothing, a curtain and seat-covers from Whiting's van, which had later been matched to fibres found in clumps of Sarah's hair and on her shoe.

He said: "Mr Whiting would have you believe he was the victim of an unfortunate coincidence. But it's an awful lot of coincidences when you look at just the fibre evidence."

He finally turned to the nine-inch strand of Sarah's hair, which defence barrister Sally O'Neill has argued found its way on to Whiting's sweatshirt through contamination in the forensic laboratory.

He said there were several "big ifs" in the theory proposed by Miss O'Neill, concluding that the chance of that being the real case was remote.

He reminded the jury the defence did not call any witnesses in court to question the forensic findings.

Mr Langdale concluded his summing up by telling the jury: "The prosecution has put before you compelling evidence that the defendant is the man responsible for these crimes. If that's the view you all share, then the proper verdict is one of guilty."

Sarah went missing from a country lane near her grandparents' home in Kingston Gorse while out playing with her brothers and sister.

Her naked body was found buried in a shallow grave 21 miles away, off the A29 near Pulborough.

Miss O'Neill was today due to make the closing speech for the defence.

7 December 2001