The brother of murdered schoolgirl Sarah Payne has revealed that her killer beamed and waved at him seconds after abducting the eight-year-old.
Lee Payne, then aged 13, still feels guilty he wasn’t able to stop his little sister from falling into the clutches of paedophile Roy Whiting.
Speaking for the first time on a Channel 5 documentary about the events of that harrowing day 17 years ago, Lee explained he was about 30 seconds behind Sarah as they and siblings Luke, then 12, and Charlotte, then 5, played in a cornfield in West Sussex.
They and their parents Sara and Michael (who has since passed away) had been visiting their grandparents.
Running ahead of her brothers and sister, Sarah dipped through a gap leading to a road on the edge of the field and was never seen alive again.
Whiting snatched the little girl out of sight and bundled her into his van, grinning and waving at her brother Lee as he drove away.
Lee said the way Whiting was smiling at him made him “very uneasy – didn’t make me feel comfortable at all.”
He added: “When it comes to feeling guilt about the situation, I did for a few years beat myself up… that if I run faster… I might have caught up with her. There’s never going to be a day when you’re going to turn around and be like, ‘I’m over that now.’ Because that’s just not going to happen.”
Sarah was abducted on 1 July 2000. On 17 July, a body was found in a field around 15 miles away near Pulborough. Within 24 hours, forensic tests had confirmed it was Sarah and a murder investigation began.
Luke Payne also speaks during the programme, blinking back tears as he admits he is haunted by what happened and the thought he could have saved her.
“I don’t get a lot of sleep. I dread the night, because it’s just you and your thoughts,” he said.
He also recalls how his late father bought a sawn-off shotgun in preparation for what he would do if Whiting was found not guilty.
Lee added that when he sees Sarah’s friends now: “I always wonder where she would be… what she would be doing… whatever she would have been doing, she would have shined.”
Sarah’s devastated mother Sara became a child protection campaigner after her daughter’s death.
Following years of pressure on the Government, Sarah’s Law came into effect in 2011, allowing parents to ask police if anyone with access to their child is a convicted paedophile.
Mrs Payne was awarded an MBE in 2008 for her tireless campaigning on the issue.
Of facing Whiting in court, she said: “I realised that he really wasn’t a monster, and he had no place in my mind, or my, my head.
“It was then that I realised, he’s just a sad, lonely person that actually goes after children because he couldn’t have a relationship with an adult. And it sort of really hit home then, what I’d allowed him to take up far too much of my mind space, and I think it was at that moment, I thought no. No more.”
She added: “Roy Whiting never looked at me. At all. Not the whole time he was giving evidence, not the whole time we were sat next to each other.
“What I realised was, in the whole of the court case, was he did not care about me, Sarah, the children - it was just a means to an end, it was never, ever about us. It was never, never about her, it was just about what he wanted.”
On 12 December 2001, Whiting was convicted of the abduction and murder of Sarah and was sentenced to life imprisonment, following a four-week trial.
After his conviction, it was revealed Whiting had been jailed for four years in 1995 after admitting abducting and indecently assaulting a nine-year-old girl in Crawley, West Sussex.
The maximum term was life imprisonment, but he received a lesser sentence because he admitted his crime and spared his victim the ordeal of giving evidence in court.
Sarah Payne: A Mother’s Story will air on Channel 5 at 9pm on Wednesday 19 July.