This is the red sweatshirt which provided detectives with a billion-to-one link between Sarah Payne and her killer, a court heard.

A blonde hair was found on the top by forensic scientists after it was seized from accused Roy Whiting's van.

DNA fingerprints from cells attached to the root of the nine-inch long strand showed the chance of it not belonging to the eight-year-old schoolgirl were a billion to one, Lewes Crown Court was told.

Ray Chapman, who led the huge forensic investigation following Sarah's death on July 1 last year, also told the court DNA from the sweatshirt revealed a billion-to-one match with Whiting, 42, proving he had worn the garment.

Photos of the sweatshirt were released for the first time by police on the ninth day of Whiting's trial.

Timothy Langdale, prosecuting, asked Mr Chapman: "If that hair did not come from Sarah Payne, then the DNA profile must have been matched by chance?"

Mr Chapman replied: "The chance of obtaining the match if that hair had come from somebody else, would be in the order of one in one billion."

The hair is at the heart of a web of forensic evidence which the prosecution claims proves mechanic and builder Whiting snatched Sarah from a country lane in Kingston Gorse, near Littlehampton. He denies kidnap and murder.

The jury was yesterday led through the conclusions drawn from 18 months of examination of hundreds of hairs, fibres and items taken from Sarah's body, her home, Whiting's flat in St Augustine Road, Littlehampton, and his white Fiat Ducato van, seized on the night of his arrest on July 2 last year.

The court was told of a series of perfect or near-perfect matches.

l As well as the link from the hair, four fibres from the red sweatshirt were snagged in the Velcro strap of Sarah's shoe, recovered from a roadside four miles from her grave.

l The body bag into which Sarah's body was placed revealed 400 fibres, including one from a pair of black socks recovered from Whiting's van. It also held a fibre from the driver's seat cover of Whiting's van.

l A cotton fibre from a clown-patterned curtain removed from Whiting's van was found on Sarah's shoe. Saliva extracted from the curtain gave a billion-to-one match with Whiting.

A hair found on the curtain revealed DNA from a female who was not Sarah.

l Two clumps of matted hair removed from the site of Sarah's grave contained fibres matching three items found in Whiting's van.

Two matched the red sweatshirt, one matched the brown acrylic passenger seat cover and 11 matched the socks. There was one polyester fibre from an unknown source, three of which were also found on the red sweatshirt.

Two other light blue fibres of unknown origin were found in the hair, perfectly matching four on the sweatshirt.

l A small stain on the left sleeve of a tartan shirt from Whiting's van was analysed and gave a one-in-200,000 link to Whiting. Sarah's brother, Lee, had told earlier the driver of a white van seen speeding away from where Sarah vanished had worn a blue and green checked shirt, "like a builder's." Five hairs were taken from the shirt but no DNA could be extracted from them.

l A pair of Whiting's jeans were examined and found to be grubby and stained with soil. A blue fibre found in the right front pocket matched one found on the inside of one of Sarah's coats. The origin of the fibre could not be established but the court was reminded Sarah's dress had never been found.

Mr Chapman said the evidence taken as a whole provided "extremely strong support" for Sarah having been in Whiting's van.

Mr Chapman said he placed his findings at the top of an in-house scale used by forensic scientists to assess the weight of evidence.

He said the case was strengthened by evidence of a two-way transfer of fibres between Sarah and the vehicle, namely the discovery of fibres from the sweatshirt in the clump of Sarah's hair and the blonde hair found on the sweatshirt.

Mr Chapman said: "Taking into account the fact we have a two-way transfer of fibres between Sarah and the van, a number of distinctive fibres and their rarity, and the extraneous fibres, I have considered two alternatives.

"Either, this is the result of an association with Sarah and the van; or all these fibres matching are the result of a chance coincidence.

"In my opinion there is very strong support for the findings being a result of an association between Sarah and the van.

"If we assume the shoe was Sarah's, taking into account the hair and fibres, then in my opinion, there is extremely strong support of an association between Sarah and the van."

Mr Langdale raised the question of whether the hair could have been mistakenly transferred to Whiting's top during transit, storage or the analysis process.

The jury heard a bag holding two hairbrushes from the Payne family home was among 55 items transported to the laboratory by a police officer at the same time as the red sweatshirt and some hair had escaped from its sealed bag.

The court heard it was analysed and found to be that of Sarah's sister, Charlotte.

Mr Chapman said: "I thought it was very unlikely the hair had been transferred from the hair brush packaging on to the sweatshirt as opposed to being on the sweatshirt all along."

The court had earlier been told how the team of scientists spent a year-and-a-half amassing and testing the forensic evidence.

Twenty lever-arch files were filled with hundreds of pages of notes by the team from the Forensic Science Service Laboratory in London.

Mr Chapman explained the group's first task was to formally identify Sarah's body when it was discovered in a field near Pulborough, 16 days after she had gone missing from the lane 21 miles away.

The court was told the aim of the investigation was then to discover any links between the eight-year-old schoolgirl and the accused.

Mr Chapman said Sarah's body was initially examined to see if any traces of Whiting's DNA could be found from blood or hair.

The court heard how the material was subject to an increasingly stringent sequence of chemical and physical examinations.

First, fibres were compared side-by-side under a high-powered microscope.

Matching fibres were then subject to microspectrophotometry, in which a beam of light is shone through the thread into a computer which detects how much light of each colour is absorbed.

In the final test, dye is extracted from the fibre and chemically separated into its constituent ingredients to analyse exactly how it was manufactured.

Mr Chapman told the court the thread from the clown curtain was important because it was "particularly distinctive".

The forensic evidence-in-chief finished at 3.30pm yesterday when the court adjourned.

The trial continues.

November 29, 2001