In the midst of grief, a life is celebrated

`Sophie, my precious little sister, I am missing you dearly, I know you will always be with me'
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At the rear of the nave, there is a den set aside for children, with picture books to amuse when hymns and prayers do not.

Sophie Hook used to go there, and she and her mother may have read about the Two Cockerels, or the adventures of Orm and Cheep. But all the books were stacked away yesterday when Sophie, aged seven, went past in her coffin and her mother's weeping echoed from the medieval walls.

Twelve days after she was abducted, sexually assaulted and strangled on a shingle beach, a child for whom life had scarcely begun was placed eternally in the soft Cheshire earth.

Her sister, Jemma, and cousin, Luke, both nine, had last seen her when they were camping together in the garden at her aunt and uncle's home. They were with her yesterday for the last time, following the coffin through the cool beech shadows of St Mary and All Saints churchyard in Great Budworth.

Statistically, her death confirmed merely the mean of child homicide during more than 30 years, but no normality of emotion can be possible after the violent death of anyone so young and helpless. As the family and mourners walked away from Sophie's grave, back to the quiet normality of an affluent village, their faces were drawn with excruciating grief for an act Sophie's funeral service did not attempt to explain.

Her parents, Julie and Chris, had decided it should be a celebration of her life. They had arrived to a sonorously funereal toll from the sandstone tower, accompanied by their three surviving children. The Jones family, from whose Llandudno garden Sophie disappeared, followed. The two smart young families mingled, four handsome adults and seven pretty children. They should have been out for a special treat, but they moved instead toward a hearse. Sophie's father and three uncles carried her coffin through the lych gate.

Cradled in Mrs Hook's arm was daughter, Ellie, 21 months; Jemma held hands with her mother and brother, Joe, five.

The 350 mourners sang "The Lord's My Shepherd", Sophie's favourite tune, and they heard Mr Hook read her favourite bedtime poem, a mischievous rhyme about feeling too ill for school, but well enough to play. "Goodnight, Sophie," he said.

In a poem in the order of service, Jemma wrote: "Sophie, my precious little sister, I am missing you dearly, I know you will always be with me, when I look at pictures of you over the past seven years I hope you will look at them with me, all the happy times I spent with you and will spend with you I enjoyed and will enjoy." It was signed, "your ever-loving sister".

Sophie's teacher, Dorothy Strange, spoke of a child of beauty, an utterly free spirit, at ease with herself and the world. "Sophie took pleasure in creating beautiful things. How could someone so young know so naturally the rules of living and loving and giving that so many of us take so long to learn? We have been privileged to be part of her short life."

The Rev Derek Mills recalled the day less than seven years ago when he baptised Sophie. "It was my privilege to hold this little child in my arms. Everyone who knew Sophie spoke of her happiness, and the happiness and joy which she brought to everyone around her. In the midst of grief we have a beautiful and wonderful life to celebrate - Sophie will always be remembered with thanksgiving."

Julie Yale, a detective constable who investigated Sophie's death, read from St Mark's gospel: "Let the children come to me ... whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it." Matthew Davies, a Chester cathedral chorister, sang "The Lord Bless You and Keep You". Mrs Hook broke down and her husband comforted her.

They prayed for Sophie, and then left her in the far corner of the graveyard 90 minutes after they had brought her.