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The BBC's Duncan Kennedy
"Police say it could be one of the most significant sightings yet"
 real 28k

Assistant Chief Constable Nigel Yeo
"An incredible response from the public"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 11 July, 2000, 03:15 GMT 04:15 UK
Fresh hope in hunt for Sarah
Police and Sarah's family
Police and Sarah's family urged witnesses to come forward
Detectives searching for missing eight-year-old Sarah Payne are still hoping that a possible sighting of her could help them solve the mystery of her disappearance.

A girl in a blue dress, believed to be called Sarah, was spotted with a stocky man at the M6 service station in Knutsford in Cheshire, hours after Sarah disappeared.

Helpline numbers
Sussex Police: 08456070999
National Missing Persons Helpline: 0500700700
Crimestoppers: 0800555111

The Surrey school girl has now been missing for nine days.

She was last seen walking to her grandparents house in Ferring near Worthing, West Sussex.

Members of Sarah's family joined Sussex assistant chief constable Nigel Yeo at a news conference on Monday morning to issue fresh appeals for information and for their daughter's safe return.

The man sighted in Cheshire at 0500 BST on Sunday was white, about 30 years old, about six feet tall, of solid build with crinkly, sandy hair.

Mr Yeo said: "If that person is aware that they were there and is listening to this, we really need to get hold of him, we really need him to come forward to eliminate himself or otherwise from this inquiry."

Sarah Payne
Sarah has been missing for over a week

Police also appealed for more information about a white van seen in the area around the time Sarah went missing, urging people in the local area to call if they had seen a white van being worked on, or near a lock-up or a garage.

Sarah's mother Sara Payne clutched a white teddy bear, given to the family by police, which she said the family were keeping for Sarah to name when she came home.

"We are all determined, we are all strong for Sarah when she comes home," she said.

"Obviously it gets harder and harder every day. Every hour is harder than the last one."

Mrs Payne, 31, thanked the public, press and police for all their support and read from one of the many letters which have flooded in from around the world.

Earlier it emerged that detectives involved in the search for Sarah are to be offered counselling because of their inquiry's distressing nature.

Sussex's police's welfare unit will assess how officers are coping when it arrives at Littlehampton police station, West Sussex, on Monday.

Sarah's family has already been offered specialist counselling to cope with their ordeal, but officers refused to reveal if they had accepted similar help.

Payne children
Sarah's brothers and sister are feeling the strain

Detective Inspector Martyn Underhill said: "Hindsight has shown us that several police officers in the past have suffered emotionally and psychologically from dealing with an inquiry of this kind."

Police have received between 4,000 and 5,000 calls about the disappearance, but urged anyone who thought what they had contributed had not been acted upon to ring again.

On Sunday, prayers were said for the family in the village church at East Preston, where Sarah vanished as she walked towards her grandparents' home.

Police road checks on the lane where she vanished revealed two new witnesses who told police about walkers seen in the area before she went missing.

Investigators are awaiting the final results of DNA tests on samples taken from several addresses searched and vehicles seized during the hunt.

Sarah was last seen wearing black shiny shoes with velcro fastenings and a dark blue Fred Perry-style tennis dress. Her hair is cut in a bob.

Two men arrested last week have both been released on police bail pending further inquiries.

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