Tears and flowers as the people came to mourn their second `English Rose' Rose

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The Independent Online
THE MAN in the black leatherjacket looked as tough as they come but as he handed a bunch of flowers to the young police officer, he was too choked to speak. White with grief, he turned on his heel and strode off into the spring sunshine.

The bouquets began arriving at Jill Dando's house in Fulham, west London, soon after news of the television presenter's murder was announced by a stunned BBC colleague on Monday. By yesterday afternoon, there were 40 or 50 of them propped up against the railings of a neighbour's house in Gowan Avenue, the quiet suburban street where she was gunned down like a Mafioso.

Some of the flowers were from neighbours and friends, but most were from people who knew her only as a reassuring presence in their living rooms, bringing them the news, the latest unsolved crime or a new holiday destination. They had never met Jill Dando, but they mourned her all the same.

Something similar happened 20 months ago. The outpouring of grief is quieter this time. Yet the comparisons are irresistible and were spelt out in a note pinned to a bunch of pink carnations. "We have lost another English Rose," it read.

Ms Dando may not have occupied the same place in the nation's affections as Diana, Princess of Wales, but she was treasured by the viewers of Middle England. And the parallels between the two women are uncanny. Both were blonde, both embodied something quintessentially English and both met a violent death in their mid-thirties, at a time when they had just found love and had everything to look forward to. The bouquets laid in memory of Ms Dando evoked the vast carpet of flowers that took root a few miles away, outside the gates of Kensington Palace.

And, as if the echoes of that extraordinary late summer of 1997 were not loud enough, people queued up to sign condolence books at the BBC's headquarters in west London and at its studios in Plymouth, where Ms Dando had her first job in television.

Yesterday the cream facade of her three-bedroomed house was obscured by a white police tarpaulin and its wrought iron gates had been removed for forensic examination. So the floral tributes had to be placed across the road.

Some of the bouquets were accompanied by handwritten messages. "To Jill Dando, in memory of a nation's sweetheart, from Bob, an admirer," read one. "Dear Jill, we only met briefly but I shall never forget your smile," wrote a fan called George. Another note stated, simply: "It's so wrong."

Gowan Avenue and the surrounding streets presented an image of suburban tranquillity yesterday - mothers pushing their babies' pushchairs, bursts of blossom in the trees, the murmur of a radio from inside a house where builders toiled. Not the kind of place where young women are shot in the head on a Monday morning.

The sense of disbelief was palpable among the people who stood in huddles outside the security cordon, watching the police come and go. "It's so desperately sad, such a waste," said a grey-haired woman in a blazer and plaid skirt.

Scenes of crime officers conducted a fingertip search of Ms Dando's house and peered over neighbouring rooftops from a hydraulic lift. Police also scoured drains around the area and searched the banks of the River Thames at low tide.

Just before midday, a taxi drew up and the driver got out, clutching a bunch of roses, lilies and freesias. They had been given to him, together with a pounds 20 note, by a scruffily-dressed young man who hailed him outside Victoria Station and told him: "Please, take them to Jill Dando's house."