The flat of the man accused of murdering schoolgirl Sarah Payne was scoured "with a fine-tooth comb", a court heard today.

Scenes of crime officers removed 433 items from Roy Whiting's home in St Augustine Road, Littlehampton, in the days after he was arrested on July 2 last year.

Detective Constable Phillip Mullan told Lewes Crown Court that he spent more than 100 hours examining the alleged killer's flat in a two-week period from July 3.

Police swooped on Whiting the day after eight-year-old Sarah was snatched from a country lane near her grandparents' home in Kingston Gorse, East Preston, on July 1.

Whiting denies kidnapping and murdering Sarah.

Mr Mullan said officers took every piece of clothing and bedding from Whiting's untidy flat.

They also took fingerprints and swabs, and copied shoe indentations from the carpet.

Mr Mullan said: "It's no exaggeration to say we went through it with a fine-tooth comb, although we did not examine every item."

He said he had taken an array of photographs before items were removed from the flat.

The jury was later shown a red sweatshirt found by police in Whiting's van, which later became one of the most crucial items of evidence in the case.

Scenes of crime officer Anna Maxwell said she placed the sweatshirt in a brown paper bag to prevent it being tampered with or contaminated.

Several months later a single strand of Sarah's blonde hair was found by forensic experts on the garment.

Other items removed from Whiting's van on July 3 last year included a clown-pattern curtain.

A fibre from the curtain was found on one of Sarah's black shoes, spotted at the side of the road by a passing motorist close to where the youngster's body was found.

Also found in the van was a copy of the Sunday Mirror dated July 2.

Whiting had claimed he had not been out on that day until 7.45pm, when he went for a meal at a local cafe.

A bottle of baby oil, other items of clothing and receipts for DIY goods dated July 2 were also found in the white Fiat Ducato van.

Whiting sat in court today dressed in the same blue jeans and grey sweatshirt he has worn every day of the trial so far.

Sarah's parents Sara and Michael sat just feet behind him at the back of the courtroom.

The case continues.

November 26, 2001