Sunday

Sara Payne: The Minister for Victims

SARA Payne has been given a top government job, the News of the World can reveal.

The tireless child safety crusader is to be made Britain’s first Victims Commissioner.

Sara, 39, is expected to have her own desk at Jack Straw’s Ministry of Justice after beating several top-notch candidates to the role.

Last night a senior Downing Street source told us: “Sara is one of the most impressive advocates for crime victims in the country. She will be a massive asset for the government.”

Sara has spent almost nine years campaigning since the abduction and murder of her eight-year-old daughter Sarah by paedophile Roy Whiting.

She will take up the job after being recruited by Justice Secretary Mr Straw and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

Sara, awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours List, will work three days a week and be paid as a consultant.

She will be able to directly lobby Cabinet Ministers for action to help those whose lives are destroyed by crime.

She will also advise the government on drawing up policies to help crime victims and will help recommend which support schemes across the country are given government cash. And Sara, who has four children, will be able to ensure vital local charities helping victims are not starved of funding.

The post of Victims Commissioner was announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in his speech at the Labour Party Conference in September. After that, Sara was approached and invited to apply for the role.

Since then she has been interviewed by Ms Smith, Mr Straw and the Attorney General, Baroness Amos.

Challenging

Last week the Prime Minister, who campaigned for Sara’s MBE, finally signed off her appointment.

The Downing Street source added: “We expect Sara will be constantly challenging the government and taking up cudgels on behalf of those whose lives have been ruined by criminals of all sorts.

“This is a key role. Not only will Sara be helping to determine government policy, she will also be exposing the failures in the system right across the board.

“There are enough campaigners for criminals. It’s about time victims had their own ambassador.”

Sara was the driving force behind the News of the World’s For Sarah campaign to give parents and carers the right to know if predatory child sex offenders lived locally.

Initially, she faced massive opposition from child care agencies and some police forces.

But she impressed former PM Tony Blair, his successor Mr Brown and a succession of Home Secretaries by her tough and knowledgeable stance.

Her campaigning has so far led to the introduction of 14 pieces of legislation tightening the laws on child sex offenders. Her crusade reached its peak last year with the launch of pilot schemes in Hampshire, Cleveland, Warwickshire and Cambridgeshire.

Parents and carers there are told of a sex offender’s history if a child could be at risk and can check on neighbours and relatives with unsupervised access to kids.

Sara played a vital behind- the-scenes role on the panel responsible for setting up the pilot schemes.

She said of the schemes: “They are proving a success and I’m confident they will be rolled out nationwide and soon become part of everyday life. A child was saved the very first week the scheme was launched. That was an amazing feeling.”

Tony Blair first floated the idea of a proper representative for crime victims in a speech in 2005, but the government quietly forgot about it.

It was not until last September, when Gordon Brown was writing his keynote conference speech, that the idea was resurrected.

In his conference speech, Mr Brown said: “Jacqui Smith and Jack Straw are introducing a landmark reform in our justice system, to put victims first.

Pressure

“We will create an independent commissioner who will stand up for victims, witnesses and families.“

The government has been under pressure to improve the rights of crime victims since the 7/7 London bombings three years ago.

Then, the News of the World revealed victims of the atrocities were being forced to wait for compensation and treated like second-class citizens.

The House Of Commons Order Paper reveals Mr Straw will make a statement about the appointment tomorrow.

ian.kirby@notw.co.uk
BBC Radio 4 Programmes - Profile, Sarah Payne
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Kate and Gerry McCann can be seen here campaigning tirelessly too