SILENCE FOR DUNBLANE : In every home and workplace, time stands still

`I offer them my thoughts and prayers'
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For the past few days it is all anybody has talked about; but at 9.30am yesterday the words ran out. Across the country Britons stopped in their tracks to observe a minute's silence as a tribute to those who died at the hands of Thomas Hamilton exactly four days earlier.

As the small Scottish cathedral city struggled to come to terms with its grief, people from every corner of Britain drew to a standstill as an expression of solidarity with Dunblane. At the other end of the country, residents in the tiny west Cornwall fishing port of Mousehole marked the silence by launching the Penlee lifeboat maroon. The loss of eight local crew members in an accident in1981 meant they could identify with the loss felt in the small community.

All major television and radio broadcasters observed the silence, as did airports, railway stations and supermarkets. Travel - by land, sea or air - was suspended for the 60 seconds. The observance was comprehensive. Shoppers, prisoners, transport staff, tourists, young and old; they all bowed their heads as a mark of respect on the Mother's Day which turned into a national day of mourning.

Phyllis Rose, 63, a grand mother who runs a stall selling bathroom accessories at the busy market in Petticoat Lane, east London, borrowed a friend's loudhailer so she could alert shoppers to the minute's silence. "What kind of Mother's Day is this, that we have to stand and remember all those poor children that died?" she asked."There is really nothing we can do to help the parents and the friends of those kiddies, but I think this is just a way of telling the people of Dunblane that the nation grieves with them."

Many were visibly moved by the unified tribute. As London's Euston Station moved back into action, Jodie Dunster, 16, said with tears in her eyes: "It was really nice how everyone was just standing there and thinking of those children. It's really special how everyone paid attention to that. I can't imagine what the mothers will be feeling, I just offer them my thoughts and my prayers."

All cross-Channel ferry services from Dover were put on hold as passengers, crews and port workers remembered the 16 children and teacher who died. "All of our ferries, whether they were in the ports of Dover or Calais or mid-Channel did the best they could to observe the silence." said a spokesman for the P&O ferry-operator. And passengers bowed their heads at Railtrack's 14 main stations, where trains were delayed for five minutes.

Even the hubbub at Gatwick and Heathrow airports halted as machines closed down, sales stopped, and silence descended both in terminal buildings and on the tarmac.

At Maidstone Prison, where inmates and staff have already raised pounds 1,000 towards the disaster fund, prison officers and their charges all stopped what they were doing. A spokesman said: "Everywhere was quiet. The prison wings, cells, kitchens - everywhere."

Many stores stopped for impromptu ceremonies at the request of staff. Two hundred Sainsbury's stores around the country observed the silence and all activity ceased in the country's 670 McDonald's restaurants.