Roy Whiting was either the victim of an "extraordinary accident" or Sarah Payne's killer, a court was told.

Drawing his cross-examination of Whiting to a close at Lewes Crown Court, Timothy Langdale QC, focused on a single strand of blonde hair which the prosecution alleges provides a billion-to-one link between the schoolgirl and her murderer.

The jury has been told the nine-inch strand was found on a sweatshirt recovered from Whiting's white van seized by police on July 2, the day after the eight-year-old disappeared.

Mr Langdale said the solitary hair proved Whiting, 42, had kidnapped, killed and buried her.

Whiting, who denies kidnap and murder, replied the discovery was a "coincidence".

Earlier, Ray Chapman, the scientist who oversaw the forensic investigation, had admitted there was a chance it could have found its way on to the garment through contamination between exhibits but said it was "very unlikely".

Mr Langdale said to the part-time builder and mechanic: "Either you are the unfortunate victim of an extraordinary accident whereby Sarah's hair became dislodged from an exhibit package taken from her home, somehow got on the bag within which your red sweatshirt was and somehow attached itself to your red sweatshirt, where it was found.

"You would be the most unfortunate man. It would have been bad luck so far as you are concerned?

"The alternative is that barring an extraordinary accident it can only mean one thing: You were the man who kidnapped, you were the man who killed that child and you were the man who buried her body.

"That is the only other alternative is it not?"

Whiting replied: "It was not me."

Mr Langdale went on to question him on how 22 fibres indistinguishable from material taken from the sweatshirt and a clown-patterned curtain also in Whiting's van were found on Sarah's black shoe - the only item of her clothing recovered.

He asked how fibres identical to those from the sweatshirt, the van's seat covers and a pair of Whiting's socks were extracted from clumps of Sarah's hair lying at the burial site.

Whiting said: "It could be coincidence. We don't know, in the eight to 12 weeks she had those shoes, what fibres she might have picked up or what fibres she picked up on her clothes before coming down to Kingston Gorse."

Whiting had already dismissed as "coincidence" other planks of the prosecution evidence, saying it was "pure chance" he had been driving around in a van matching the description given by Sarah's brother Lee, then 13, of the vehicle he saw speeding away down Kingston Lane moments after he had lost sight of his sister.

He has also said it was coincidental that Lee gave a description of the driver of the van wearing a white T-shirt and checked shirt.

Earlier, Whiting was asked why he made no comment during three separate sets of police interviews on the day after Sarah vanished, two weeks after her body was found and shortly after results of forensic evidence were returned.

He said he found it difficult to maintain his silence but was acting on the advice of his solicitor.

Referring to the last interview, on February 6, when police told him of the forensic evidence linking him to Sarah's death, Mr Langdale said: "You must have been appalled to discover that you, an entirely innocent man, found there were fibres linking you to the death of that little girl.

"The game was up was it not?"

Whiting replied: "No."

He was then asked if he sustained three scratches on his chest and arms when the eight-year-old was in the back of his van.

Mr Langdale, referring to a curved scratch on Whiting's chest, said: "Was it in fact a possibility that you were not wearing anything on the top half of your body?

"Has it got anything to do with that girl in your van? Has it got anything to do with the fact that she was in the van?"

Whiting said: "No, it has got nothing to do with the fact."

Earlier, Mr Langdale asked Whiting about clothes he had been wearing on the night Sarah was snatched.

Mr Langdale reminded the jury that Sarah's brother Lee had described the driver of a van speeding away from the lane minutes after his sister vanished, wearing a white T-shirt and checked shirt.

In a statement read to the court by detectives who visited Whiting's flat in St Augustine's Road, Littlehampton, the following day, the jury heard Whiting had been wearing a white T-shirt.

But he told the court the detective's note may not have been accurate.

Mr Langdale asked him: "Are you suggesting in this courtroom that the police were aware of the fact that the man driving the van was wearing a white T-shirt and have deliberately chosen a white T-shirt as being your description of what you were wearing when you did not say that to them at all?"

Whiting replied: "There could have been confusion."

Mr Langdale said: "I'm not talking about confusion.

You are suggesting police put you down as saying you were wearing a white T-shirt when you had not said that.

"Were you not suggesting they had done that deliberately because they were looking for someone wearing a white T-shirt?"

Whiting replied: "It's possibly what they have done.

"I don't take much notice of what T-shirt I have on, I haven't got a specific shirt for each day, I just grab one and put it on."

Mr Langdale pressed: "Were the police trying to pin a white T-shirt on you? Did they also say, 'Well Roy, were you wearing a checked shirt?'?"

Whiting said: "They didn't mention the checked shirt."

Mr Langdale said: "No. They could have pinned a checked shirt on you easily, couldn't they?

"There's not a word of truth in what you are saying, is there?"

Mr Langdale then asked Whiting why he had made no comment at police interviews following his arrest on July 31, two weeks after Sarah's body had been found in a shallow grave in a field off the A29 near Pulborough on July 17.

He said: "Again my solicitor was present. She advised me to make no comment."

Mr Langdale said: "The circumstances had rather changed. This little girl's body had been discovered. What were you thinking?"

Whiting replied: "I should have, yes. I was following the advice of my solicitor."

Mr Langdale said: "You were, no doubt, glad to take the opportunity to say nothing if the truth was going to damage you."

Whiting said: "No."

Mr Langdale then asked why Whiting had maintained his silence when he was arrested for a third time on February 2 this year, after the results of forensic evidence which the jury have been told provided "extremely strong" links between him and Sarah.

He said: "I was just obliged to make no comment in that interview as well."

At the end of Whiting's cross-examination, Miss Sally O'Neill QC, defending Whiting, made no re-examination of her client.

The trial continues.

5 December 2001