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Tuesday, 20 November, 2001, 19:13 GMT
Parents in tears over Sarah evidence
The distraught parents of murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne fled a courtroom after hearing gruesome evidence about how their daughter met a "violent death".
Sara and Michael Payne left Lewes Crown Court arm in arm as the jury heard from the pathologist who examined the eight-year-old's decomposed body.
The evidence was given as trial judge Mr Justice Curtis released four photographs of Roy Whiting, the 42-year-old who denies kidnapping and murdering Sarah in July last year.
Mr Justice Curtis amended the order prohibiting publication of the photographs because evidence dealing with identification was over.
The prosecution claims Mr Whiting, of Littlehampton, West Sussex, snatched the eight-year-old from a lane in Kingston Gorse, West Sussex, on 1 July last year before murdering her and dumping her body in a shallow grave, where it was discovered 17 days later.
Mr and Mrs Payne broke down in tears as pathologist Vesna Djurovic told how Sarah met a "violent death", and how, in her opinion, the youngster was the victim of a "sexually motivated homicide".
Jurors stopped taking notes and looked shaken as Ms Djurovic told how advanced decomposition made it impossible to say for sure if Sarah had suffered any external or internal injuries.
Ms Djurovic said: "Although there was no pathological evidence to show sexual assault the possibility that there was some interference cannot be excluded due to the extent of the decomposition. It can obscure bruising to the neck."
Ms Djurovic read her conclusions of the post mortem examination carried out on 17 July last year, the day Sarah's body was found, to the court, saying that the most likely cause of death was asphyxiation.
She said death could occur in such a way if a victim had been strangled or if the palm of the hand or a ligature had been pushed against the neck.
She said even the bodies of recent murder victims often failed to show physical signs of strangulation.
"I cannot ascertain the cause of death in Sarah's case," she said.
"However, in view of the circumstances of the disposal of her body, the absence of clothing, and the absence of any natural diseases, and in view of her age, I reached the conclusion that she died a violent death.
"In my opinion, the removal of the clothing indicates that her death was the cause of a sexually motivated homicide.
"In my opinion the most likely cause of death was asphyxiation."
Earlier, on day three of the trial, farm labourer Luke Coleman told in a statement read to the court how he discovered Sarah's body as he cleared ragwort from in an isolated field close to the A29 road at Pulborough, West Sussex.
Mr Coleman approached what he thought was a dead animal before realising to his horror that it was the body of a naked child.
"As I approached I could see it was not a deer but the body of a child," he said. "I could see a leg with a foot pointing diagonally upwards and I could see it was naked.
"I was so shocked that I could not remember if it was face down or on its side.
"I did not see a face. The ground appeared to have been interfered with. It looked as if someone or something had dug an area and placed it there. It was not very well covered. I was shocked and dazed and ran home and managed to get in contact with the police."
Click here for map of the area where Sarah vanished
The court heard from several motorists who claimed to have seen a white van at the site where Sarah vanished on 1 July last year and at the spot where her body was found.
Sarah had been playing a game of hide and seek with her brothers Lee, 14, and Luke, 13, and sister Charlotte, six.
Cynthia Read said she saw a van fail to stop at a give way sign as it pulled out from Kingston Lane into North Lane at around 7.40pm on July 1. She said the van showed "no hesitation" as it sped away.
Sean Matthews, from Croydon, south London, was travelling on the A29 after visiting his mother in Bognor Regis on 1 July last year when he saw a white van pull out from a hedgerow at Pulborough at 11pm.
It later emerged that the spot where he saw the van was close to where Sarah was found.
Jacqueline Hallam, who was driving from Haywards Heath to her home near Pulborough, at 10.15pm on 1 July last year, said she saw a white van parked on the edge of the road.
She said it was odd as there were no footpaths in the area.
Pc Paul Jeacock described the first time that Sarah's eldest brother Lee, 14, spoke of seeing a man in a white van who smiled and waved at him before speeding off shortly after his sister disappeared.
Pc Jeacock said Lee Payne told him that he did not want to worry anybody and had not mentioned it beforehand as they retraced Sarah's last steps.
The trial continues.
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