It’s almost 20 years since the sunny afternoon that saw the lives of the Payne family changed forever.
The four Payne children, Luke, 12, Lee, 13, Charlotte, 5 and Sarah, 8, were playing in a cornfield in west Sussex during a visit to their grandparents’ house.
Running ahead of her brothers and sister, Sarah dipped through a gap leading to a road – and was never seen alive again.
In Sarah Payne: The Untold Story, Sarah’s mother reveals the horror of that day from the family’s perspective in a new programme for ITV.
What happened to Payne?
As she raced through the field, Sarah ran straight into the path of convicted paedophile Roy Whiting, who was passing in a white van.
By the time her brother Lee emerged on the same spot, Whiting had snatched Sarah. He was driving off but took the time to wave and smile at Lee as he left the scene.
Sarah was abducted on 1 July 2000. On 17 July, a body was found in a field around 15 minutes away, near Pulborough. Within 24 hours, forensic tests had confirmed it was Sarah, and a murder investigation began.
Speaking in 2017, Lee revealed his short encounter with Whiting had left him “very uneasy.”
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.”
Who is Roy Whiting?
On 12 December 2001, Whiting was convicted of the abduction and murder of Sarah and was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum term of 50 years, 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.
In 2010 Whiting’s 50-year jail term was reduced by 10 years by a High Court judge.
Under the original tariff, Whiting would not have been considered for release until he was in his 90s. But at an appeal, Mr Justice Simon concluded the “appropriate” minimum term was a period of 40 years.
In 2018, it was reported that Whiting had been hospitalised after he was stabbed in prison.
What is Sarah’s Law?
Recalling the last time her daughter was seen, her mother Sara Payne told Susanna Reid: “When I think about her, I think of her playing with her brothers and her sister. If those were her last moments on this earth, then that’s what I would have chosen for her… That must have been a lovely afternoon for them.”
She added: “Both the boys are dads now. I can live with her not being here any more. I can’t live with them not being able to live their lives because she’s not. And I can’t have him [Roy Whiting] take any more than he took. He took enough that day and I won’t give him any more.”
Since her daughter’s death, Mrs Payne has become a child protection campaigner and has fought to ensure sex offenders can no longer hide their criminal history and put children at risk.
Sarah’s Law came into effect in 2011, allowing parents to ask police if anyone with access to their child is a convicted paedophile. It is a watered-down version of a US law under which details of where convicted paedophiles live are publicised.
Under the Home Office scheme, parents can ask police about anyone with access to their children and officers will reveal details confidentially if they think it is in the child’s interests.
Police may also warn parents if concerns are raised by grandparents or neighbours. In 2012, figures revealed Sarah’s Law had helped protect more than 200 children from harm in its first year.
Mrs Payne was awarded an MBE in 2008 for her tireless campaigning on the issue.
In 2009, Mrs Payne survived a life-threatening stroke brought on by a brain aneurysm and underwent two major brain operations in 36 hours, but was left paralysed down the left side of her body.
She was hospitalised again two years later and continues to battle back from ill health.
Who was Michael Payne?
Sarah’s father, Michael Payne, died in 2014 at the age of 45 after years of battling alcoholism.
The Paynes split in 2003 after 18 years together, with both parties blaming the difficulties of coping with the tragic loss of their daughter.
Mr Payne told the News of the World he felt guilty for being unable to protect his daughter and said this had put a strain on his marriage.
Three years before his death, Mr Payne was jailed after pleading guilty to glassing his brother Stephen following a heavy drinking session. Sentencing him, Judge Jeremy Carey said he had the “deepest sympathy” for the loss of his daughter but the offence warranted a jail sentence.
Sarah Payne: The Untold Story airs on Thursday at 9pm on ITV.