Sarah Payne placed a tiny milk tooth under her pillow on the evening before she was kidnapped and murdered.

It was meant for the tooth fairy. Instead, detectives came to take it.

They used DNA extracted from the root to obtain a genetic profile of the blonde-haired schoolgirl.

The tiny tooth was her parents' last reminder of their fun-loving daughter.

Only her killer knows exactly how the pretty little girl spent the last hours of her innocent life.

For the past three weeks at Lewes Crown Court the fragments of evidence detectives painstakingly gathered from that tragic night have provided a glimpse into the horror of Sarah's last moments.

And through all but the most harrowing details her parents Sara, 32, and Michael, 33, sat pressed together, leaning on each other for comfort as the tragedy unfolded day by day in the formal, cold language of the court.

The familiar story of the family's trip from Hersham, Surrey, to visit the children's grandparents in Kingston Gorse, East Preston, on the hot summer's day of July 1 last year was recounted twice.

The original jury was discharged on its second day because of a procedural irregularity and, to the anguish of relatives, the trial began again.

Before she could take a seat next to her husband, Sara took the witness stand.

She told how she had left Sarah and her other children - Lee, then 13, Luke, then nine, and little sister Charlotte, five - playing together on the beach at East Preston in the fading sunshine with the words: "Please stay together."

Her eyes lit up as she caressed her "little princess's" sleeveless silver coat. She fondly remembered: "It was her favourite. It looks quite adult."

A video, taken the day after the terrible events of Sarah's last evening, was played to the court.

Luke, chest high in shoots of corn, led detectives through the field off Kingston Lane where she was last seen.

He pointed out patches of broken wheat where the children had played hide-and-seek with their dog Fifa before Sarah, upset after bumping her nose in a fall, ran through a gap in the hedge.

Lee - who has aged almost beyond recognition from the confident schoolboy who was left in charge of his siblings - told how he had pursued his tearful sister out of the field.

He frantically searched up and down the tree-lined lane before returning to his grandmother Lesley with the words: "I've lost her."

He described how the driver of a white van had grinned at him with yellow teeth before speeding away.

The ensuing search for Sarah was the biggest single operation ever carried out by Sussex Police. For 16 days the nation hoped that somehow, somewhere, she would be found alive.

But the hope was snuffed out on July 17 with the discovery of her body, naked and disturbed by animals, buried in a hurriedly-dug, 6in-deep grave in a field off the A29 near Pulborough.

Farm worker Luke Coleman described his horror as he stumbled upon what he at first thought was a dead animal.

The evidence of pathologist Dr Vesna Djurovic finally proved too much for Sarah's parents.

They fled the court in tears as she described how she believed Sarah had met a violent death in what she described as a "sexually motivated homicide".

Detectives arrived at Roy Whiting's seafront flat less than 24 hours after Sarah went missing. He was out.

They returned a few hours later and he was questioned in the lounge of the untidy bedsit in St Augustine Road, Littlehampton.

All officers had to go on was Lee's description of the high-topped, long-wheelbase white van.

Whiting mentioned he had recently bought a white van and a quick inspection showed it was similar to the teenager's description.

The officers staked out his flat and watched as he made repeated trips out to the white Fiat Ducato before stepping inside and attempting to pull away, the jury heard.

He was penned in by their cars and questioned.

He was arrested but maintained his silence through nine hours of interviews spread over five months.

In the witness box he said he felt detectives were harassing, badgering and hectoring him, then said he had made no comment on the advice of his solicitor.

Whiting had said he was at home the night Sarah was snatched. In his van police found a receipt, timed 9.53pm, from the Buck Barn Garage, near where Sarah's body was found.

Lee had said the van he saw speeding away had windowless rear doors, but the doors of Whiting's van had windows.

Detectives delved into the van's history, discovering the jobbing builder had bought it two weeks earlier.

They spoke to the seller, Dean Fuller, who told them it had metal panels instead of back windows. He also told them the rear of the van had been lined with plywood panelling.

A nationwide appeal brought the solution. Widower John Kentish came forward, explaining how he had bumped into Whiting in Littlehampton on June 28.

The pair got into conversation and he agreed to sell him a spare set of rear doors with windows, taken from his own Fiat Ducato. Whiting picked them up two days later.

Two days after Sarah's body was discovered a single shoe - a tiny black sandal - was found by agricultural records officer Deborah Bray in a hedge near Sarah's grave.

Snagged in its Velcro strap were more than 200 tiny fibres. Each was extracted and subjected to minute analysis.

One, a multi-coloured thread, matched material from a clown-patterned curtain left in Whiting's van by Mr Fuller when he sold it, the court heard.

Scientists made a further 22 connections between Whiting and Sarah on the basis of such fibres found both on the shoe and in clumps of her hair lying near her body.

The final piece of evidence was not recovered until January this year.

Zelda Kemp, of the Forensic Science Service's lab in London, studied a red sweatshirt retrieved from Whiting's van and found one of Sarah's blonde hairs stuck to it.

DNA testing showed a billion-to-one link. On February 6, 2001, Whiting was charged with Sarah's kidnap and murder.

But Sally O'Neill, defending, urged the jury to totally disregard the evidence of Sarah's strand of hair.

She said the sweatshirt could have been contaminated when it was sent to the forensic labs in the same van as two hairbrushes from the Paynes' home.

Timothy Langdale QC, prosecuting, described Whiting as a loner with an appearance so untidy it was on the point of unhygienic.

But on the night of his arrest Terry Heath, a one-time colleague, said Whiting looked as if he had been "steam-cleaned".

Builder Doug Wawman employed Whiting for a number of jobs, including building an extension to his son's house in East Preston, just around the corner from where Sarah vanished.

Other workmates described how Whiting had a detailed knowledge of the roads and farm tracks in the area where Sarah's body was found.

Whiting himself took the witness box in the closing days of his trial. He hoped to convince the jury he was not the monster he had been made out to be.

He denied having anything to do with Sarah and said he wanted the jury to hear what he had to say because he had nothing to hide.

He said he had been driving around the area, stopping at parks and funfairs because he had nothing else to do on the night Sarah was snatched.

He said it was coincidence he owned a white van matching Lee's description and had a check shirt and white T-shirt matching the clothes Lee told police the driver was wearing.

He said his detailed knowledge of the lanes around Kingston Gorse and the tracks off the A29 near Pulborough was also coincidental.

December 12, 2001