The pursuit over, a people's princess comes home

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The Independent Online
A sombre Prince of Wales brought the body of his ex-wife, Diana, home to Britain last night as the nation struggled to come to terms with the shock and suddenness of 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, struck down by the hideous banality of a car crash.

But there was also a growing sense of anger at the manner of her death - killed 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 tough new 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 Harrods owner Mohamed al-Fayed, who was also killed in crash.

French police sources last night said that 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 angry mood was summed up most graphically by Diana's brother, Earl Spencer at his home in South Africa, who said 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 about the need to raise serious questions about "aggressive intrusion into her privacy".

The calls were given further ammunition by reports that one news magazine in the United States has been offered photographs of the Paris crash and its aftermath for around $1m (pounds 588,000). One photographer was attacked by witnesses.

Though a growing number of MPs and former ministers were pushing hard for tougher laws or a fresh inquiry into privacy legislation, senior sources were pointing out that France's tough privacy laws had not prevented the tragedy, and that the prospect of fresh British legislation was remote.

Outside Diana's London home, Kensington Palace, photographers were forced to seek police protection because of a hostile reaction from 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.

Charles, who much earlier in the day had woken his sons, William and Harry, at Balmoral to break the news their mother's death, met 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 grieving sons, who earlier had appeared composed when they went with the Queen, their father and other members of the Royal Family at a Balmoral church service yesterday morning.

Mr Blair 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 together 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 period of mourning. However, the arrival of the coffin, draped in the Royal Standard, bore some of the hallmarks of a state occasion. The body was taken to an unnamed mortuary.

As tributes poured in from world leaders and celebrities for the self- styled Queen of Hearts, including from President Clinton and Mother Teresa, much of life in Britain came to a stop.

St Paul's Cathedral, the scene of the Princess's marriage to Prince Charles, held a memorial service last night and as a mark of respect Downing Street announced that Mr Blair had cancelled two meetings he was due to host at No 10 today.

More significantly the campaign over the referendum on a Scottish parliament - which takes place next week - was suspended, though sources insisted the poll would still go ahead.

The driver of the Mercedes in which the couple were being driven was also killed, but a British bodyguard, named last night as Trevor Rees- Jones, employed by both Dodi and his father, survived.

The crash happened at just after midnight in a tunnel near the Place d'Alma. The car was travelling at "high speed", apparently trying to shake off the paparazzi. The black Mercedes hit pillars dividing the carriageways inside the tunnel and then rebounded against the wall. Police sources said that the horrific damage to the vehicle suggested that it must have been travelling at at least 100kph (60mph), in a 50kph speed limit area.

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