MEMBERS of a voluntary search group which can trace its roots back to the disappearance of schoolgirl Sarah Payne at Kingston Gorse have set themselves a fresh mission in their 10th anniversary year.
Sussex Search and Rescue was officially launched in 2002, but has its origins in the huge community effort to look for the missing eight-year-old when she vanished from Kingston Lane on July 1, 2000.
The following day about 80 neighbours and others joined police and firefighters combing the surrounding countryside, and in the days that followed, more people swelled their ranks.
Their determined efforts proved to be in vain, as Sarah’s body was found 17 days later in a shallow grave near Billingshurst. Littlehampton man Roy Whiting was subsequently jailed for life for her murder.
However, the volunteers had proved their worth to the police, and after the murder trial, there was an official recommendation to establish a search and rescue team on a more formal basis.
Sussar was launched in 2002, since when it has gone from strength to strength and is now a registered charity. The group is using its 10th anniversary to raise more awareness of its work, and more funds.
Spokesman Colin Watson said: “We are the primary volunteer resource used by Sussex Police to search for and rescue vulnerable missing persons. We are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days. Our members give their time free of charge and expect nothing in return but satisfaction from a job well done.
“We exist purely to serve the community of Sussex, through the goodwill of our members and charitable donations.
“We can be called out by Sussex Police, or by search and Rescue teams in other counties, requesting our assistance. In the last year we were called out 36 times, attending searches across Sussex from Hastings to Chichester, Brighton to Crawley.
“The times of a call-out vary, as do the days of the week. We have even received call-outs at midnight on Christmas Day, 2011, and New Year’s Day, 2012, both of which were attended by a large proportion of our team.”
The 10th anniversary started on a high note, with an award from Sussex Police Deputy Chief Constable Giles York, in recognition of the team’s work.
It’s hoped to keep up the momentum with displays at summer shows and to generate much-needed funds, whether through street collections or sponsored runs – Sussar will be one of the four official charities at next year’s Brighton Marathon. For more information about Sussar, visit www.sussar.org or see the group’s Facebook page.