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Wednesday, 12 December, 2001, 14:53 GMT
Timeline: The Sarah Payne tragedy
Police search
Police carried out an exhaustive search
Within hours of her disappearance, police launched a UK-wide campaign to find eight-year-old Sarah Payne.

As fears grew that she had been abducted Sussex Police, working closely with Sarah's family, appealed for anyone with any information to come forward.

As time wore on hopes of finding Sarah alive began to fade.

Saturday 1 July 2000: Sarah disappears from her grandparents' home in West Sussex after an argument with her brothers and sister at about 2000BST. She is reported missing soon after. Fire crews and police spend the night searching without success.

Sarah Payne
A new photo of Sarah, issued on the day a body was found
Sunday 2 July:More than 50 officers and 80 volunteers join in a fingertip search of the immediate area. Roy Whiting, a known paedophile, is arrested for the first time. He is subsequently released on police bail.

Monday 3 July:Michael and Sara Payne make the first of their emotional televised appeals for their daughter's safe return. Police say she could have been abducted. A second man is arrested.

Wednesday 5 July:Police stage an identity parade. Whiting and the other man are released on bail pending further inquiries.

Thursday 6 July: Every police force in the country is involved in the hunt for the missing girl. The search is scaled down as the inquiry shifts to specific leads, including claims of attempted abductions in the area.

Friday 7 July: Police stage a reconstruction of Sarah's last known movements in an effort to jog the memories of possible witnesses. Early DNA test results on samples taken from several addresses are inconclusive.

A young child re-traces Sarah's last moments
Saturday 8 July: Police sift through more than 3,500 calls from the public and set up roadblocks to question motorists about a white van and silver Mondeo spotted by Sarah's 13-year-old brother Lee. He, along with her brother Luke, 11, and sister Charlotte, six, make an emotional appeal.

Sunday 9 July:As the search enters its second week, Sarah's siblings visit the incident room to thank officers for their efforts.

Monday 10 July:Police reveal a sighting at Knutsford service station in Cheshire of a schoolgirl answering Sarah's description. Officers say it is the "best sighting yet".

Wednesday 12 July:Sarah's favourite pop group, Steps, make an impassioned TV plea for her return. It is revealed the police operation has so far cost 250,000.

Thursday 13 July: Sara and Michael Payne are told to "prepare for the worst". Detective Sergeant Sean Scott says the emphasis of the inquiry had shifted and Sarah "may not be found safe and well".

Sara and Michael Payne
Sara and Michael Payne worked closely with officers
Friday 14 July: Lee, Luke and Charlotte speak about the family's ordeal. "We are looking after mum and dad by giving them a cuddle, just trying to keep them happy," says Luke.

Saturday 15 July: The Payne family returns to the beach where they had been walking shortly before Sarah's disappearance, and renew their appeal for help.

Monday 17 July: Police find the body of a young girl near Pulborough.

Tuesday 18 July:Police confirm the body is that of Sarah Payne. A murder investigation begins.

Thursday 20 July:Police find what they believe is one of Sarah's shoes at the small village of Coolham, a few miles east of where the body was discovered.

Clown-patterned curtains
Police were inundated with calls after showing distinctive clown-patterned curtains
Monday 31 July: Whiting is arrested for a second time. He is released on police bail.

Wednesday 24 January 2001: Police receive 270 calls following a Crimewatch UK appeal on BBC One where a distinctive pair of clown patterned curtains are shown.

6 February 2001: Whiting is arrested for a third time and charged with Sarah's murder.

12 December 2001: Whiting found guilty of abducting and murdering Sarah Payne and jailed for life.

Full coverage of the trial

The verdict

Catching a murderer

Protecting children


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