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The BBC's Daniela Relph
"Abduction is now a serious possibility"
 real 28k

Monday, 3 July, 2000, 22:38 GMT 23:38 UK
Abduction fears grow for missing girl
Michael and Sara Payne
The Paynes are going through every parent's nightmare
Fears are growing that missing eight-year-old schoolgirl Sarah Payne may have been abducted, say police.

A major police search using helicopters, sniffer dogs, a bloodhound, thermal imaging cameras and scores of volunteers has failed to find any trace of the youngster who vanished on Saturday night.

On Monday her parents, Sara and Michael, went on national television to make an emotional plea for the safe return of their "little princess".

Sarah Payne
Sarah was last seen playing with her brothers and sister
Police say they are now interviewing known sex offenders in the area.

Detective Superintendent Ladley, leading the hunt for Sarah, said it looked likely the youngster had been snatched as she walked from a wheatfield near Ferring, West Sussex.

He said: "We do have to consider there's a growing possibility that Sarah has been abducted.

"If she was fairly close to where she was last seen then we are confident we would have found her."

The little girl walked off after a playtime tiff with her brothers and sister, just 150 yards from her grandparents' home.

A fingertip search of the immediate area uncovered no clues.

If she was fairly close to where she was last seen then we are confident we would have found her

Detective Superintendent Ladley
The police operation, which has grown from 50 to 150 officers, has now been under way for more than 48 hours.

Sussex police spokesman Chris Oswick said underwater search teams had been scouring nearby waterways on Sunday night, but without success.

'Strong family'

Sarah's mother, clutching the hand of her weeping husband and her father-in-law, earlier told a news conference at Littlehampton police station in West Sussex: "You can't imagine what Sarah means to us, we're a strong family and we don't survive well apart.

"We need her home now, today, as quickly as we possibly can."

Mrs Payne added: "She's our life. Our family name for Sarah is 'our little princess' and that's just what she is.

"She's a soft, gentle little girl, she hasn't got a horrible bone in her body."

The Payne children were playing a game of dinosaurs at about 1900 BST on Saturday when Sarah decided to walk home, Mrs Payne said.

Policeman and dog
Terry Smith and bloodhound Morse sniff out Sarah's scent
Sarah's 13-year-old brother Lee had followed her from the field but had lost sight of her.

He told police he had seen a grey Ford Mondeo and a white Transit-style van drive past near Sarah's route home, but police have still not been able to trace the owners.

The family were on a regular weekend visit to Sarah's grandparents Terry, 58, and Lesley, 46, but her parents say Sarah would not have wandered off alone.

Specially trained bloodhound Morse, on loan from Essex police, picked up the girl's scent in the field and at a nearby beach where the family had played earlier.

But Morse's handlers PC Malcolm Fish and PC Terry Smith said their findings had been inconclusive.

School prayers

On Sunday a local evening newspaper was circulating 1,000 missing posters showing the schoolgirl.

Friends at Sarah's school in Surrey said prayers for her safe return, and headteacher David Sutton described her as a "very popular child".

The little girl was last seen wearing shiny black nylon shoes with velcro fastenings and a blue Fred Perry style tennis dress. Her blonde hair is cut in a bob.

Anyone with information about the disappearance should contact Sussex police on 0845 6070999.

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