The Disappearance and Murder of Sarah Payne

The 8-year-old’s murder changed England’s laws.

Josie Klakström


Sarah Payne via

Playing hide and seek with her brothers and sister in a cornfield, Sarah crawled through a gap in the tall harvest and onto the road adjacent to the field. She was heading back to her grandparents’ home because she’d received a knock on the head, but while walking down the road, she was abducted by a man in a white van.

What came next was England’s worst child murder at the time.

Eight-year-old Sarah grew up in Hersham, Surrey with her two brothers, 13 and 11 and her sister who was six. She was staying with her grandparents in Kingston Gorse, West Sussex that summer in 2000. Their home was close to the beach and had acres of land for the four children to run around in.

Sarah disappeared on the 1st of July, and within a few hours, a country-wide manhunt had begun to find the missing girl. Her older brother, Lee told police that he had seen a white van speed off as he got to the edge of the field, to follow Sarah. He said the unkempt man behind the wheel waved at him, but the boy had no idea that his little sister was in the back of the vehicle.

“He was quite scruffy, looking like he hadn’t shaved for ages. He had little white stubbles on his face and little bits of grey in his hair. He was greasy and stuff.”

Investigators began mapping the area for known sex offenders, and they arrested Roy Whiting at his home in Littlehampton, five miles away from the grandparents’ home.


41-year-old Whiting had been convicted five years earlier for the abduction and sexual assault of an eight-year-old girl, 30 miles away from Kington Gorse in Crawley. He received a four-year sentence due to admitting to the crime and was released after 2 years and five months. He was one of the first people in England to be put on the sex offenders’ register. From here, he moved from Crawley down to Littlehampton.

Roy Whiting via Entertainment Daily

Whiting was questioned for an hour at his seafront apartment before the police left, but later that evening, he…



Josie Klakström

Josie is a freelance journo who writes about writing, true crime, culture and marketing.