The man accused of killing Sarah Payne remained silent when he was formally charged with her murder, a court heard.

Roy Whiting was arrested for the third time during the investigation into the eight-year-old schoolgirl's death on February 6, more than six months after her disappearance from a lane in Kingston Gorse, Littlehampton.

Lewes Crown Court heard yesterday how the 42-year-old mechanic, formerly of St Augustine Road, Littlehampton, was arrested and interviewed about the results of forensic evidence which the prosecution says proves Sarah had been in his white Fiat Ducato van.

Detective Inspector Jeff Riley, who conducted the interview at Bognor police station, told the jury he asked Whiting about a red sweatshirt and a patterned curtain found in his van, fibres from which were found on a shoe later identified as belonging to Sarah.

He said he also questioned him about a long, blonde hair which matched Sarah's DNA profile and was found on the red sweatshirt.

He said: "He made no comment. He said the words 'no comment'."

At 3.20pm, on February 6, Whiting was charged with the kidnap and murder of Sarah by Detective Sergeant Amanda Hinchliffe.

Ms Hinchliffe said: "He made no reply to the caution."

Earlier yesterday, the court heard from consultant motor engineer William Barnett, who carried out tests on Whiting's Ducato after it was seized when he was arrested on July 2 last year.

Mr Barnett confirmed the van was front-wheel drive. The jury has heard from Sarah's eldest brother Lee, 13 at the time, who saw a white van, allegedly with Whiting at the wheel, speed away from the lane minutes after he had lost sight of his sister.

Lee told the court: "He was in a hurry. He did a wheel spin. The back wheel moved but the front wheel didn't."

Roger Morley, junior counsel for the defence, asked Mr Barnett: "If the van which abducted Sarah had its rear wheels spinning, then it would not be the Fiat Ducato you examined?"

Mr Barnett replied: "That's correct."

Yesterday morning the court heard how an independent forensic report reinforced crucial links between Sarah and Whiting.

Scientist Roger Robson, a forensic specialist since 1978, was asked by the police to repeat tests on fibres carried out at the Forensic Science Service laboratory in London.

Mr Robson said his findings not only backed up fibre matches discovered by police forensic expert Raymond Chapman but, in relation to two of the fibres, his tests slightly improved the association between Sarah and Whiting's van.

Whiting denies kidnap and murder. The trial continues.

December 1, 2001