UK

Dignified campaigner Sara Payne's fight goes on

  • 9 June 2010
  • From the section UK
Sara Payne with family and friends outside court
Sara Payne was supported by her family during the hearing

It was an occasion Sara Payne had been dreading.

Roy Whiting, the man who a decade ago abducted and killed her eight-year-old daughter, Sarah, was appealing against his 50-year "tariff".

This minimum term he must serve before being considered for parole had been imposed by then Home Secretary David Blunkett in 2002 and would in all likelihood, the family had thought, keep Whiting in jail for the rest of his life.

However, this process of allowing politicians to dictate sentences was ruled incompatible with human rights laws by law lords just a day later - opening the door for killers like Whiting to appeal.

Ahead of the hearing, Ms Payne, from Surrey, told a national newspaper she was once more "preparing to confront" her daughter's murderer in court.

In the event, she was spared the ordeal. Whiting was not present as she sat in court, surrounded by family as they waited for the session to begin.

A brief moment of levity broke the tension as the court rose in unison for the judge - who was to sit without wig or robe - only to realise it was a bemused court official who had entered.

­­­­The sombre mood returned with the arrival of Mr Justice Simon, no doubt aware that his decision would confirm the family's fears.

A reduced minimum term of 40 years was "appropriate", he said, before asking the court to reflect in silence for a few moments on the family's "grave loss".

The Payne family, already steeled for the result, reacted with quiet dignity - an occasional hand on shoulder, or comforting embrace, the only clues to their feelings.

Wearing badges marked "For Sarah" - the little girl's face smiling out - they slowly made their way out of the Royal Courts of Justice.

Ms Payne spent last Christmas in hospital, unable to talk, having suffered a stroke.

But less than six months later, the characteristics which had seen her battle grief to become a tireless champion of victims' rights were in evidence.

Flanked by her children, she made her way - slowly but deliberately and with the aid of a stick - through the Royal Courts of Justice's long central lobby, its high arches towering above her.

She was helped down the court steps by a relative to face the TV cameras.

They captured a woman much changed from a year ago, when her drive was evident as she spoke passionately in her role as the government's Victims' Champion.

'Reeling'

Her hair was shorter, her left side partially paralysed and her face perhaps showed the strain of recent health problems.

But she addressed the media in the same articulate way which had seen her awarded an MBE for her campaign work.

"We expected [the minimum sentence] to be cut and to be honest it could have been a lot worse," she accepted.

Ever since her daughter was so cruelly taken away from her, she has demanded that British justice do more for victims rather than merely focusing on criminals.

And even in her disappointment at the court's ruling - the family were "reeling", she said - her message remained the same.

"The family don't get a parole date. There's no end to this," said Ms Payne, alluding to the family's grief.

"I will continue the campaign for a safer Britain for children. As long as sex offenders walk the streets I will always be there."