Roy Whiting was sitting in a park watching the sun set at the time Sarah Payne was abducted, he said today.

Whiting, who denies kidnapping and murdering the schoolgirl, spoke for the first time in public today about his movements on the day she was snatched.

The builder and mechanic stepped into the witness box at Lewes Crown Court at 10.40am under the watchful gaze of the schoolgirl's mother and father.

Wearing a maroon sweatshirt and blue jeans he read the oaths in a clear and confident voice before sitting down.

Whiting, 42, was led through a series of questions by his defence counsellor, Sally O'Neill.

He told the court he had lived at his flat in St Augustine's Road, Littlehampton, for about a year before his arrest on July 2 last year in connection with the eight-year-old's disappearance.

He said he had previously lived at another flat in the same road for about two years. Miss O'Neill asked about his professional life.

He said: "I was in the motor trade for about 20 years as a mechanic, MOT tester and self employed mechanic with my own little workshop in the Crawley area."

Miss O'Neill went on to ask Whiting about work he had done while living in Littlehampton. He said he had been a builder and a labourer.

He told the court he had done jobs with a man called Mark Woods, and also worked for Doug Wawman on a series of jobs before going off sick in June last year.

He told the court that while working at Mr Wawman's son Brian's house in East Preston, he had taken his dog for a walk on a daily basis in the fields and lanes nearby.

It is the prosecution case that it was during these walks Whiting spotted the secluded play area to which he returned in July last year, abducting Sarah before killing her and burying her body in a field 20 miles away near Pulborough.

He said he had never socialised with Mr Wawman and only knew him through work.

He said: "I've been working for him for almost a year and he was a hard person to get on with. I'd had enough. I didn't know whether to chuck the job in or not. I wanted time to see if there was other work about before handing in my notice so I told him I had a twisted gut."

The court heard how Whiting's last day of work was June 17 last year and he had spent the following days purchasing a white Fiat Ducato van and parts to repair it with.

The court heard how when he bought the van for £400 from Dean Fuller it was in a rusty condition.

He said: "All the doors were rusty, the rear doors were very rusty. Inside he had panelled it with wood from another van. It never fitted properly, it was rubbish, a bodge."

He explained to the court how he had picked up various switches and a sheet of metal to patch up the van.

The jury heard that on June 28 he met a man called John Kentish on a seafront road near his home who drove an identical Fiat Ducanto van which he had converted into a camper.

Whiting told the court how he had got into conversation with Mr Kentish before arranging to go down to his house in Poole, Dorset, to pick up a spare set of rear doors.

It is the prosecution's case that the van, which Sarah's brother Lee saw being driven away down Kingston Lane minutes after she disappeared from a cornfield had not had windows in its back doors.

When Whiting was arrested the following day police found the doors of his van had windows.

Whiting told the court today how he had switched the doors on the Saturday or Sunday morning because the original ones on his van had not been secure.

He also told the court that after ripping out the wooden lining in the back of the van he had "pressure washed" it.

Miss O'Neill then led Whiting through a detailed timetable of his actions on the day Sarah had disappeared.

He explained he had woken up and gone to PDH in Worthing to pick up a switch he had ordered for his van at around midday. Miss O'Neill asked: "Did you have plans for the rest of the day?"

Whiting replied: "I was bored. I had nothing in particular to do. I had a lot on my mind at the time. I was thinking of going somewhere else and starting afresh either in Eastbourne, Dover way or Exeter, Devon, somewhere like that."

He said he headed towards Shoreham in his van where he stopped at around 12.30pm to have some lunch.

He said: " I went for a walk on the beach. I was just walking along thinking what to do. It takes about two hours to walk the circle, it may have been a bit longer."

He then told the court he drove towards Hove on the A259.

He said: "I was just going for a drive, it was a long day."

He said he saw the group of people windsurfing on a boating lake and stopped there for ten or 15 minutes to watch them before driving into Hove.

Miss O'Neill asked: "Did you have anything in mind?"

He replied; "Nothing really. I was bored and at a loose end. I pulled into a park, I bought some sandwiches and a paper. I sat down and read the paper cover to cover."

He said he had stayed in the park for about an hour before once again setting off.

He said: "I got in my van, carried on driving. As I was driving I saw a fun fair in another park. I parked up on the side of the road and walked around the fair. I had a look what was there and I had a hot dog or something to eat."

He said he sat down on a bench about 50 yards from the fair and watched the sun set over an office block opposite.

He said: "It must have been about 7.30pm."

It is alleged Sarah was kidnapped at around 7.30pm that evening from near her grandparents home in Kingston Gorse.

Whiting said he then drove around the centre of Hove trying to find a road in which a friend of his used to live.

At one point he stopped to buy a map of the area before driving along the A23 towards Brighton. He then turned his van around and headed back towards Littlehampton.

The trial continues.

4 December 2001