Diana 1961-1997: The pursuit over, a people's princess comes home

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The Independent Online
The Prince of Wales brought the body of his former wife, Diana, home to Britain last night as the nation struggled to come to terms with her violent death.

In part, the mood was one of simple grief at the loss of a 36-year-old woman in her prime, a "People's Princess" who had become the most famous woman in the world, killed by the hideous banality of a car crash. But there was also a growing sense of anger at the manner of her death - in a high-speed chase escaping a pack of paparazzi photographers in Paris - prompting claims that sections of the media had "blood on their hands". The tragedy also led to calls for the introduction of tougher privacy laws.

Seven photographers were last night being questioned by police in Paris over their part in the motorcycle pursuit of Diana and her close friend Dodi Fayed, son of the Harrods owner Mohamed al-Fayed, who was also killed in the crash.

Mr Fayed's body was brought back to Britain last night in a coffin draped in black cloth and taken to the central London mosque in Regent's Park. Raafat Maglad, muezzin at the mosque, said Mr Fayed attended funeral prayers for his son in a service which lasted 25 minutes. He was later buried in a private ceremony at Brookwood Cemetery near Guildford, Surrey.

French police sources last night said charges of dangerous driving and failing to take action to prevent the loss of life could be brought against some of the photographers. The sources said that some of the pack were taking pictures within seconds of the crash. Mr Fayed announced last night that he intended to bring a law-suit against the photographers involved and their employers.

The anger was expressed most clearly by the Princess's brother, Earl Spencer, at his home in South Africa, who said that every owner or editor who had paid for intrusive photographs of his sister had "blood on their hands". He said: "I always believed the press would kill her in the end. But not even I could believe they would take such a direct hand in her death, as seems to be the case."

On his tour of the Far East Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, spoke of the need to raise serious questions about "aggressive intrusion into her privacy". The calls were given further ammunition by reports that a magazine in the United States had been offered photographs of the crash and its aftermath for about $1m (pounds 588,000). Although a growing number of MPs and former ministers were pushing hard for tougher privacy laws, sources were pointing out that France's more stringent laws had not prevented the tragedy.

Outside the Princess's London home, Kensington Palace, photographers sought police protection from hostile onlookers who had come to mourn her. The scenes contrasted with the quiet dignity of Prince Charles and Diana's two sisters, Lady Jane Fellowes and Lady Sarah McCorquodale, as they flew with the body into RAF Northolt, near London, last night.

Prince Charles, who earlier in the day had woken his sons, William and Harry, at Balmoral to tell them of their mother's death, met the French President, Jacques Chirac, as he left the Salpetriere Hospital, where surgeons had fought for two hours to save Diana's life. He was was met on his return by Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, before returning to Scotland to be with his sons, who had earlier attended a church service at Crathie Church, near Balmoral, with their father, the Queen and other members of the Royal Family. Mr Blair had said in a televised statement: "I am utterly devastated. We are today a nation in a state of shock, in mourning, in grief that is so deeply painful for us."

Last night the Queen was being consulted with other members of the Royal Family, Diana's family and Downing Street over when the funeral will take place. They will also decide on whether the Princess will be given a full state funeral and over the length of any official mourning. The arrival last night of the coffin, draped in the Royal Standard, bore some of the hallmarks of a state occasion. The body was taken to a private mortuary before being moved to the Chapel Royal at St James's Palace.

As tributes poured in from world leaders and celebrities for the self- styled Queen of Hearts, including from the US President, Bill Clinton, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, much of life in Britain came to a stop. A memorial service was held at St Paul's Cathedral, the scene of the Princess's marriage to Prince Charles, and Downing Street said Mr Blair had cancelled two meetings he was due to host at No 10 today. The campaign over the referendum on a Scottish parliament, which takes place next week, was suspended. The royal palaces will be closed today.

The driver of the Mercedes in which the couple were being driven on Saturday night was also killed, but a British bodyguard, named last night as Trevor Rees-Jones, employed by Dodi and his father, survived. The crash happened just after midnight in a tunnel along the Seine near the Place d'Alma. The car, travelling at "high speed", hit pillars dividing the carriageways inside the tunnel and rebounded against the wall. Police sources said damage to the vehicle suggested it must have been travelling at at least 100kph (60mph) in a 50kph speed-limit area.