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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 08:53 GMT
The Payne family: United in grief
Sara and Michael Payne
Sara and Michael are continuing their fight for Sarah's Law
Sara and Michael Payne have been in the public eye ever since their daughter Sarah was snatched from a country lane where she was playing with her brothers and sister on 1 July, last year.

They made their first emotional appeal for the eight-year-old's safe return in front of the media two days later.

Clutching her husband's hand, Sara spoke directly to whoever was holding her daughter.

"We're a strong family and we don't survive well apart," she said.


I had hoped for so long she was alive

Sara Payne
While they spoke, the police were quizzing known paedophiles and as more time passed the chances of finding Sarah unharmed were becoming more remote.

But Sara and Michael continued to face the cameras, concentrating on doing what they could to help the police find Sarah.

'Gut instinct'

Then the police received a call saying a little girl meeting Sarah's description had been seen at Knutsford service station on the M6 just hours after Sarah's disappearance.

A photofit of a man seen with her was printed in every newspaper and Sara and Michael said they had a gut instinct their daughter was still alive.

Sarah Payne's brothers and sister
Lee, Luke and Charlotte supported their parents
That hope carried the family through another week of waiting.

They returned to the Littlehampton beach where they had last all been together with their children Lee, then 13, Luke, 11 and Charlotte, six.

Luke described how the family were relying on each other.

"We are looking after mum and dad by giving them a cuddle, just trying to keep them happy," he said.

The family were all together when they got the news they had been dreading. A body had been found and it was likely to be Sarah's.

At first Sara could not accept what the police were telling her.

"It couldn't be true," she said. "I had hoped for so long she was alive."

Sarah's Law

Convinced a paedophile had been responsible for their daughter's death, the Paynes embarked on a campaign to identify sex offenders living in the community.

Backed by the News of the World, they learned of Megan's Law in America which gives the public access to lists of convicted sex offenders living in their neighbourhood.

The Paynes called for similar rights for parents in Britain, calling it Sarah's Law in tribute to their daughter.

Sarah Payne
Sarah was the Paynes' "little princess"
Their campaign ran parallel with the News of the World's "naming and shaming" of paedophiles.

It was a controversial piece of journalism and sparked a huge public debate.

But the Paynes agreed to meet with opponents to Sarah's Law, earning respect from even their harshest critics.

It was with that same strength they faced the press on the steps of Lewes Crown Court after Roy Whiting had been convicted of the abduction and murder of Sarah.

They had just heard in court that Whiting had a previous conviction for kidnapping a nine-year-old girl.

Roy Whiting
Whiting was jailed for life for Sarah's murder
By their sides were their sons Lee and Luke, who had been given a special dispensation by the judge to allow them to hear the verdict on the recommendation of a psychiatrist to help them deal with their guilt and grief.

The Paynes' message was simple. "Let's make sure this stops happening," said Sara.

The couple had been in court every day, except for when the evidence from the pathologist who examined Sarah's body became too horrific for them to bear.

They admit that at times the struggle not to give in to their anger and bitterness has almost overwhelmed them.

Indeterminate sentencing

Whiting's conviction is far from the end of the road for the Payne family.

They are due to meet Home Secretary David Blunkett and have started another round of interviews in a bid to keep the momentum of their campaign going.

On GMTV they reiterated their call for indeterminate sentencing where offenders were not released from prison until it could be proved they were safe.

Sara said: "That is what we want more than anything. We are after people like Roy Whiting that are the most serious predatory people. This is what they live for. This is their entire life, living to grab children.

"People like Whiting are never going to change."

See also:

24 Jul 00 | UK
To name and shame
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