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Thursday, 20 July, 2000, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
The Sarah Payne search
A map of the area where Sarah Payne disappeared and was found dead

The disappearance

Sarah Payne disappeared on Saturday 1 July.

She had been playing with her brothers, Lee and Luke, and her sister, Charlotte, in a field near to their grandparents' home at Kingston Gorse, West Sussex.

Lee was the last person to see her alive as she walked through the field towards her grandparents' house.

She had been wearing a dark blue Fred Perry-style sports dress and black fabric shoes.

Minutes later, her brother realised that she had disappeared.

Despite thousands of phonecalls providing possible leads - including a possible sighting at a motorway service station in Cheshire just nine hours after her disappearance, Sarah's body was found around 15 miles away from where she disappeared.

The discovery

The discovery by a farm labourer came in the mid-morning on the A29 between Pulborough and Billinghurst, near to Brinsbury Agricultural College, West Sussex.

The naked corpse was concealed by ferns and other plants which in places were more than 4ft high.

The road is used by thousands of motorists every day and there is also a public footpath not far from where the body was found.

According to initial statements by the police, the body had been there for some time - possibly placed there during the first weekend of the investigation - and had been partially concealed.

"Whether it was concealed when the body was left there or subsequently is something we can't answer," said Assistant Chief Constable Nigel Yeo of Sussex Police.

The discovery was immediately given top priority by the Forensic Science Service who sealed off the surrounding area for a fingertip search for clues - including the slightest scrap of DNA evidence.

Chief Inspector Mike Alderson said Sarah's parents had visited the spot where Sarah's body was discovered shortly after midday on Tuesday.

The body had been removed during the previous evening.

"They felt as part of their coming to terms with what has happened, as part of the grieving process, that they wanted to come and look at the location," he said.

"We agreed that they came up with the family liaison officer and they took some time here, about 20 minutes.

"You cannot imagine how terrible it is for them."

The clues

Since the discovery of Sarah's body, two more potentially vital clues have come to light.

Officers have discovered what they believe is one of the schoolgirl's shoes - in a small village east of the spot where the body was found.

This could yield crucial DNA or other forensic evidence - for instance tiny fragments of fibres which could link the find to the killer.

They are now searching for her other clothes.

Secondly, a number of people who had been camping at Fittleworth, a few miles west of where the body was found, have reported that they heard screams on the night that Sarah disappeared.

The police say that the screams could have just been children playing on the warm night - but they have not dismissed the report.

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