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понедельник, 16 января 2017 г.

Ten years after the murder of Sarah Payne, Sarah’s Law is being rolled out nationwide

Ten years after the murder of Sarah Payne, Sarah’s Law is being rolled out nationwide – a massive success for Sarah’s mum Sara, 40, who has campaigned tirelessly, along with NotW. Here Sarah’s sister Charlotte, 15, speaks about creating a positive legacy...


To you, Sarah Payne is the little eight-year-old girl you've seen in the newspapers, dressed in her school uniform, smiling for the camera. The one the nation hoped would be found safe and well when she vanished from a country lane in July 2000. Whose body was found 16 days later. But to me, Sarah Payne's just my big sister.
Last month marked the 10-year anniversary of Sarah's death at the hands of paedophile Roy Whiting, 51 - another sad milestone since I lost my sister, and my life changed forever.
Charlotte (left), aged four, with her older sister Sarah
I knew the world could be a dangerous place long before my friends did. But after years of feeling angry I'm determined to follow my mum's lead, and ensure that Sarah's death was not in vain. Something good will come from it. So I'm working with a charity that Mum co-founded, Phoenix Chief Advocates, to help parents protect their children from online predators.
Although I was only five when my sister disappeared, my memories of that day are so vivid. Visiting our grandparents in West Sussex, Sarah and I, along with our older brothers Lee and Luke, then 13 and 11, decided to play in a cornfield near their house, something we'd done many times before.
It was 7pm on July 1, 2000. Our school summer holidays were on the horizon and we played tag in the long grass. Tired and wanting a cuddle from Mum, Sarah announced she was going home. She disappeared through a gap in a hedge, into a country lane.
As she walked away we called after her not to go alone, and Lee followed her through the hedge just a moment later.
Sarah had already gone.
We thought she must have walked back to the house, which was only about 150 yards away, and decided to go and check. But she wasn't there.
As we told the adults she had disappeared from the lane, and Lee said he'd seen a white van speed off, I watched as something changed in my mum and dad's faces. I knew something was wrong but I didn't know what.
I thought Sarah had got lost, or was playing hide and seek. I was too young to understand my parent's automatic fear that she had been abducted.
The family grieve the loss of Sarah
Over the coming days, Lee, Luke and I were kept off school. Mum and Dad were constantly crying, coming and going from doing television appeals, both of them exhausted and red-eyed.
I kept asking: 'Where's Sarah? When is she coming home?' but no one knew.
'Sarah's lost but the police are trying to find her,' Mum promised, her voice breaking. 'She'll be back soon.'
At night I couldn't sleep. All of Sarah's clothes were in her wardrobe in the room I shared with her. I missed our night-time chats and our bedroom felt lonely without her.
I insisted on sleeping with her favourite red and black blanket - it smelled of her and it was like she was in the bed next to me.
I kept seeing photos of Sarah on the news, but couldn't understand why. My sister was on television when she was just lost. Why hadn't the police found her?
I know now that a huge manhunt was underway, with police and volunteers combing the area where Sarah had vanished. Newspapers were filled with the story of her disappearance and Sarah's favourite pop group, Steps, even made a TV appeal for her to come home. All I could think was that Sarah would be so cross she'd missed seeing it.
Sixteen days after she disappeared, two police officers arrived at our house and asked to speak to Mum and Dad in private.
While they were in the back garden, I switched on the TV. The screen filled with the lunchtime news.
 I will follow my mum's positive lead 
'A young girl's body has been found in a shallow grave between Pulborough and Billingshurst,' said the newsreader. 'Police believe it to be the body of eight-year-old Sarah Payne who went missing 10 miles away over a fortnight ago.'
Sitting on the sofa with Sarah's comfort blanket wrapped around me, I froze. A body? But that meant Sarah was dead. How could that be? She was just lost.
I looked out the window and saw Mum and Dad sobbing and hugging each other. I was confused and wanted Mum to come and tell me the newsreader had made a mistake.
Walking back into the house, they sat us all down. I'd never seen Mum look so pale.
'We have something to tell you,' she said, as tears tumbled down her cheeks. 'Sarah won't be coming home. She's gone to heaven.'
I understood I wouldn't see her again. But I couldn't imagine never having Sarah back. Lee and Luke were very quiet, but I burst into tears and climbed on to Mum's knee, feeling her trembling as she hugged me tight. Crying in her arms, I desperately hoped they were wrong.
For the next few weeks I was very clingy with Mum. If Sarah could disappear could that happen to me? Mum spoke to me a lot about how I was safe and didn't need to worry, but despite me asking her what had happened to Sarah, she realised I was too young to understand it.
Sarah's funeral was a couple of week's later. Because she'd never have the wedding day they'd dreamed for her, Mum and Dad planned a beautiful service.
Her tiny white coffin arrived at St Peter's Church, Hersham, in a glass hearse, pulled by four horses with plumes. They were like something from a fairy tale. I wished Sarah had seen them.
From left: Sara, Ellie and Charlotte
The church was packed and everyone around me was weeping, which was scary - grown-ups aren't meant to cry.
Through my tears, I looked at Sarah's coffin and thought of the drawing I'd done of us playing in the sunshine that my mum had placed inside. It was my last memory of my sister.
'Love you Sarah,' I whispered quietly. 'You were the best sister ever.'
Our lives were completely changed now she was gone.
I was too young to be told that Roy Whiting, who had been arrested days after Sarah's body was discovered, was found guilty of her abduction and murder, and sentenced to life in prison. But nothing was going to bring my sister back.
We moved house as Mum was unable to stay somewhere so filled with memories. For the first time I had my own room. But I couldn't sleep. I missed talking to Sarah as I drifted off, and when I did sleep I dreamed everything was normal again - a time when Mum didn't cry herself to sleep, Dad didn't sit up late drinking and staring blankly at the TV, and I still had my sister.
Mum was becoming well known. People stopped her in the street to talk to her, journalists came to our house and she sometimes appeared on the TV.
She told me that she was working hard to make sure no other children got lost, and I felt very proud of her.
 Mum still fights on in Sarah's name 
At school I became 'Sarah Payne's sister' and people were always nice, never wanting to upset me. But if anyone asked about Sarah, I refused to talk to them.
I hated that attention. I didn't want to be different. But even in the supermarket people would whisper and look at us with pity.
Mum became very protective, not letting us play out of her sight. I would sulk and argue back as my friends rode off on their bikes and I had to stay at home.
When Mum told me she was pregnant in early 2003, I was shocked. I worried that a new baby would replace Sarah. But everyone seemed so happy that I didn't say anything.
During Mum's pregnancy, her relationship with Dad began to fall apart. I could see the strain they were both under, trying to keep going for us, but devastated by Sarah's death.
A couple of months before Mum was due to give birth, they separated, and I felt very angry. Not only had I lost my sister, but now my family had split up. It all seemed so unfair.
My younger sister Ellie was born in December 2003, and from the moment I held her, I loved her with all my heart.
I could be an older sister to Ellie, now six, as Sarah would have been to me. I knew we'd be very close, going shopping, sharing clothes, and having the odd row, of course.
Thinking about my future - getting married, having children - I feel sad that Sarah won't be there to be part of that.
Charlotte, aged six, helps her mum
I'm in awe of what Mum has achieved since Sarah's death, and even though she suffered a major stroke last Christmas which has left her paralysed on her left-hand side, she still fights on in Sarah's memory.
Mum's an inspiration to me. She was appointed as Victim's Champion by the Government last year, and has seen a scheme called Sarah's Law - which allows parents to check if someone in contact with their kids has a history of child sex offences - rolled out across the UK.
I'm getting even more involved with Mum's work to help lobby the Government to put more laws in place that will protect children.
Knowing I could help save the lives of other kids eases the pain I feel every day about losing Sarah. I'm doing it all for her."
Keeping Sarah's memory alive




Along with studying for her GCSEs, Charlotte is working with Phoenix Chief Advocates - a charity her mum Sara co-founded - on a new project, a computer programme called In Loco Parentis (meaning 'in place of a parent' in Latin). This can be downloaded by parents who want to protect their children from online paedophiles. It recognises certain words that could be used to groom a young person, and when it detects them it sends an email alert to the child's parent.
"I'm helping by speaking to teenagers in schools about the benefits of this software," Charlotte says. "I tell them it's not just something their parents do to spoil their fun, it's about keeping them safe from the threats out there.
"Working on this project has encouraged me to feel positive, and it has helped lighten the pain and sense of injustice I've felt since my older sister's death."

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