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Leading Article: A disturbing trend in our modern society

THE MURDER of Jill Dando is deeply shocking. The brutal killing of this talented broadcaster has understandably captured the country's horrified attention.

Already, similarities can be observed between our response to the tragic death of Ms Dando and that to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The Queen and the Prime Minister have expressed their sadness; the BBC has made available a book for the public to write its condolences in; people have begun to lay floral bouquets and messages at the gates of the BBC and at Ms Dando's home.

It is nothing new for people to be upset by the death of a prominent person. In the 19th century, the death of General Gordon elicited widespread public mourning; more recently, thousands queued all night to pay their respects to Sir Winston Churchill as he lay in state. One suspects, however, that Ms Dando would have been puzzled by the emotions she has sparked off. For she was neither hero nor statesman. Instead, she was a television presenter whose likeable and uncomplicated character appears to have found a resonance in her audience.

But what do the growing piles of flowers and the torrent of e-mails to the BBC tell us about our modern society? Certainly, it is good to see that the notoriously buttoned-up British are not ashamed to express their emotions freely. However, there is also something disturbing about this outpouring of grief. It suggests an emptiness in too many people's lives that is filled by those they do not really know. We should question the tendency of many Britons to divert the love that should be given to family and friends to people who appear on television and on the covers of magazines.

These outpourings do not honour the memory of the modest Ms Dando. At a time when the nation is embarked on war, they smack of recreational grief.