Mourners told of Rachel Nickell's love and warmth

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RACHEL NICKELL, the 23- year-old victim of the Wimbledon Common murder, was cremated yesterday at a service that was intended to celebrate life, not mourn a death.

It was not how anybody expected her life to end. A cortege of five cars, flowers, police in and out of uniform, and a moving tribute from her father marked the funeral service in the parish church at Ampthill, Bedfordshire, which set the seal on her young life.

Ms Nickell, once a part-time model, was murdered on Wimbledon Common while out walking her dog last month.

She had been stabbed repeatedly and sexually assaulted while her young son Alex, two, looked on. Yesterday Alex, and Andre Hanscombe, his father, were at St Andrew's Church to see Ms Nickell laid to rest.

They heard her father, Andrew Nickell, deliver a heartfelt tribute to his daughter. She was, he said, 'straight, bright and shining. She radiated love, good humour, warmth and generosity, wherever she went.

'My first memory is of her being born and placed in my arms. She was a vocal, purple lump. It was the only time I ever saw her not looking beautiful.

'But she was certainly telling me what to do, something she continued to do all her life.'

Mr Nickell recalled family holidays, long car journeys with Ms Nickell and her brother Mark, endless telephone calls to teenage girlfriends and the 'rollercoaster' after she left home to live with Mr Hanscombe.

'She had an unconscious capacity to bring out the best in the people she met. She was an adoring and conscientious mother and Alex and Andre were her whole world.'

Alex, who will be three next week, had a wreath written on his behalf which read: 'Mummy, you gave me all your being, every moment of your time and always all your love.'

Ms Nickell's father read a poem chosen by Mr Hanscombe beginning: 'Do not stand at my grave and weep.' It was taken from a condolence card sent by a friend after Ms Nickell's murder.

Alex left after the service with his father in the back of a blue Metro, his face hidden under a blue baseball cap.

It should have been like any other country funeral in the 15th century church. But this one was different - marked by the presence of journalists, uniformed police and two plain-clothes detectives from the murder incident room at Wimbledon.

The police said yesterday that they were still appealing for witnesses to Ms Nickell's death. They are still no closer to finding her killer.

(Photograph omitted)