An independent forensic report reinforced crucial links between schoolgirl Sarah Payne and her alleged killer, a court heard today.

Scientist Roger Robson, a forensic specialist since 1978, was asked by the police to compare fibres found in Roy Whiting's van to those traced in clumps of Sarah's hair discovered at the spot where the eight-year-old's naked body was dumped.

He was also asked to examine fibres found on one of Sarah's black shoes, the only item of the youngster's clothing ever found by police.

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

On day 11 of the trial, the court was told that Mr Robson, of independent organisation Forensic Alliance Limited based in Oxfordshire, used the very latest technology to examine the fibres.

He found more evidence that a fibre found in Sarah's hair matched fibres from socks taken from Whiting's Fiat Ducato van.

He also discovered a closer match between a fibre on Sarah's shoe and fibres in a clown patterned curtain also seized from the defendant's van.

Mr Robson told the court: "I came to the same conclusions as Mr Chapman and I felt I found something that slightly improved the association. It was based on the instruments and one specific fibre type I found on the socks and in the hair.

"I found more characteristics than Mr Chapman found and the more characteristics you find, the greater the chance the fibres originated from the same source."

Detective Sergeant Roger Crowley helped gather potential DNA evidence from the Payne family home in Surrey in the days after Sarah was snatched.

The court heard yesterday how human hairs became stuck to the adhesive seals on the outer edge of bags used to store hair brushes taken as evidence.

Sally O'Neill, defending Whiting, later said it could not be ruled out that one of the hairs could have been transferred to a red sweatshirt from Whiting's van on which, in a crucial development in the investigation, police found a single strand of Sarah's hair.

The chances of the hair not being Sarah's was one in a billion, the court heard.

But today Mr Crowley said it was not possible for a hair to penetrate an exhibit bag, such as the one used to store the sweatshirt.

When asked by Miss O'Neill if he was worried about hairs being stuck to the hairbrush bags, he said: "I was slightly concerned. It was unfortunate. But where two sealed items come together, it is not possible for one fibre to penetrate a sealed bag."

The court also heard that Whiting's van may not have been the vehicle spotted wheel-spinning as it sped away from the spot where Sarah was snatched.

Earlier in the trial, Sarah's brother Lee, 13 at the time, said a white van drove past him as he desperately searched for his sister, who had wandered off from a field near her grandparents' home in Kingston Gorse, East Preston.

He said the van pulled up at a junction in Kingston Lane before driving off at speed with its wheels spinning.

Motor engineer William Barnett, who examined Whiting's Fiat Ducato van in detail, said it was a front-wheel drive vehicle.

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

Mr Barnett: "Yes."

Mr Morley: "If that had been a description of the abductor's van from a witness saying the rear wheels were spinning, then that witness would be describing a van which was not Whiting's van?"

Mr Barnett: "Yes."

The prosecution claims Whiting used his van to abduct Sarah and murder her before dumping her body in a field near Pulborough.

Whiting, 42, formerly of St Augustine Road, Littlehampton, denies kidnapping and murdering eight-year-old Sarah.

The trial continues.

November 30, 2001