If Sarah had lived to realise her dream of becoming a teacher, the first lesson she taught would have been: "How to laugh."

A "little princess with a smile that could melt ice", Sarah will be remembered for her infectious happiness and the joy she brought to those around her.

Her picture - pretty, gap-toothed and smiling innocently - is now as familiar to most people in Britain as the photos of their own loved ones.

For Sarah was a sensitive, fun-loving little girl who captured the heart of everyone she met and her death shocked the nation.

Gentle and kind, she believed in Jesus - and in the fairies at the end of the garden, which she would lead visitors to see, giggling, when they visited her home in Hersham, Surrey.

Born slightly deaf, she had never learned or seen any reason to keep her voice down.

The first thing her family noticed following her disappearance on July 1 last year was just how quiet their house was without her peals of laughter or renditions of songs by her favourite pop bands, Steps and S-Club 7.

Sarah had been taught to be wary of strangers and it was a message which had sunk in: shortly before she vanished she had given her brothers Lee, 14, Luke, 12, and little sister Charlotte, seven, an impromptu talk on Stranger Danger.

But that knowledge was not enough to save her when she fell in to Whiting's clutches.

The Paynes' four children were close, playing and arguing together like any young siblings.

Sarah's role in squabbles was usually to stick up for Charlotte against their two elder brothers, the way a big sister should.

It was during one of these playful tiffs, while the four children were playing in a cornfield near their grandparents' home in Kingston Gorse, that Sarah disappeared.

She had walked out into a country lane. Police said she had been away from the group for just two minutes when Whiting drove by in his white van and fate struck its cruel blow.

Her mother Sara and father Michael, both 33, became symbols of bravery and dignity, facing daily Press conferences as the hunt for their missing daughter stretched on for 16 agonising days.

In one of Sara's first appeals, made just two days after her disappearance, she said: "She's a very soft little girl, she's perfect, and right now she will be very scared indeed.

"She is soft and gentle and hasn't got a bad bone in her body."

Luke Payne, 11, made his own plea to his sister: "The family's not the same without you. There's just a massive gap in between everybody."

Two days after their daughter's body was discovered in a field near Pulborough, Sara and Michael appeared at yet another heart-rending Press call They told reporters at Littlehampton police station: "We've got a job now and that's to catch this person, or persons. Whoever it is has got to be stopped."

A mountain of flowers, teddy bears and cards built up at the side of the road where her body was found in an outpouring of national feeling not seen since the death of Princess Diana.

Lee, numb with grief, said: "We think of Sarah a lot and sometimes it makes us happy and sometimes it makes us sad."

He added: "Christmas isn't any good without her."

All three of her siblings were presented with a national Children of Courage award.

Relatives, friends, teachers, classmates from Bell Farm Junior School in Hersham, Surrey, and all those Sarah's sunny smile had touched lined up to pay tribute to her at a memorial service attended by more than 1,000 mourners at Guildford Cathedral.

Sarah's aunt, Jenny Allen, spoke for all those present.

Her voice cracking with emotion, she said: "While we cry a million tears for the beautiful little girl who painted rainbow colours into the lives of all who knew her, we should remember that to keep Sarah Payne's memory alive we must never forget how to laugh."

Her teacher Jonathan Goode echoed that sentiment, saying: "Sarah was a happy little girl, always smiling and chirpy, full of love and generosity.

"Many people have recalled how Sarah would bring things to school that she had made for her friends and teachers.

"She would skip up and hand over the little treasures, such as a picture she had drawn, story she had written or a necklace she had made, with such a cheerful and gleeful face.

"She had painted so many pictures in our minds through her cheerful and enthusiastic outlook on life."

Sarah's mother later she told of how she had struggled to write her own speech for the service: "Where do you start when you want to write about your child's short but beautiful life?

"I sat there with a pen and paper trying to pick the best bits. But her life was full of best bits."

December 12, 2001