Sarah becomes the focus of a nation's grief

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The Independent Online

More than 800 people packed into Guildford Cathedral on Saturday to take part in what was described as "a celebration of the life" of Sarah Payne, the eight-year-old girl who was murdered last month.

More than 800 people packed into Guildford Cathedral on Saturday to take part in what was described as "a celebration of the life" of Sarah Payne, the eight-year-old girl who was murdered last month.

During the service the Bishop of Dorking, the Right Reverend Ian Brackley, said that Sarah "had become the focus of the nation's grief and sorrow". The bishop, who was once the parish priest of East Preston, where Sarah's grandparents Terry and Lesley Payne live, said that Sarah's death "had touched hundreds of people's lives and become a focus for an outpouring of compassion and public grief".

The service took place at the request of Sarah's parents, Sara and Michael, who wished it to be a public affair in the wake of the overwhelming national reaction to their daughter's murder. They were accompanied into the cathedral by Sarah's brothers, Lee, 13, and Luke, 11, and her six-year-old sister Charlotte. Other people paying tribute included Maria Wallace, deputy chief constable of West Sussex police, and investigating officers from the case. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, sent a personal message of support and sympathy.

Outside the cathedral a small number of floral tributes had been laid for inspection, including bouquets from "the men of B Wing of Highpoint Prison in Suffolk", Royal Signalmen and Nato staff in Kosovo. Others read simply "from a well-wisher".

Mr and Mrs Payne chose not to speak during the 40-minute service. Instead family, friends and Sarah's teacher paid tribute to her. At the request of the family it was a simple affair, featuring Sarah's favourite hymns "All Things Bright and Beautiful", "Lord of the Dance" and "Morning Has Broken".

Jonathan Good, Sarah's teacher at Bell Farm School in Hersham, Surrey, spoke of Sarah's enjoyment of school trips to local beauty spots which always allowed her positive outlook to shine through. "She was always enthusiastic about everything she did," he said.

Sarah's uncle, Keith Payne, praised his niece's "warmth, trust and sweetness", and said he would always remember her smile and her giggle. Jenny Allen, a family friend, also singled out Sarah's giggle. "Her ability to make the gloomiest of faces light up with laughter and her total inability to curb the giggles even in mid-sulk were the very essence of Sarah's short life," she said.

Despite the upbeat nature of the speeches, which sought to reassure those present that some good surely had to come out of the ordeal, there was no getting away from why the service was taking place. On 1 July Sarah had been playing with her brothers and sister in a cornfield near East Preston when she decided to return to her grandparent's house. She disappeared. Her body was found 17 days later. Her killer is still on the loose.

Throughout the service Mrs Payne was seen to be wiping away her tears and clutching her husband and daughter. At the back of the cathedral the mewling and crying of young babies sharpened the poignancy of the occasion.

After the memorial had finished the congregation, led by the Payne family, stepped out into the dazzling sunlight of the cathedral green where 12 white doves were released from a white wicker basket. One by one, the doves flew into the sky, hovered briefly then flew away.

With a presence of mind you would not expect anyone to show in such circumstances, Mr Payne stepped forward and carefully shut the lid of the basket. Perhaps after so much anguish it was a way of saying it is time to move on - though not quite yet: a private funeral service will be held for the youngster after her body is finally released by the West Sussex coroner.

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