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At the Palace Gates, Flowers and Tears — and Anger at the Press

By Christine Spolar
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 1, 1997; Page A27

LONDON, Aug. 31—The people -- her people -- came laden with roses, lilies, freesia and vines. But among the petals of sorrow were short, tart, tear-stained notes of fury to those who, they said, killed a princess.

"To the world's press: Are you happy?" wondered one anonymous letter hung bleakly on the iron and gold gates of Kensington Palace. "You've got your picture. Shame on you."

This is a day of bitter recriminations in London, an unsettled interplay of blame and accusation following the car crash that killed Diana, Princess of Wales, her boyfriend and their driver in Paris early this morning.

The disaster occurred around midnight as Diana and her companion, Harrods heir Dodi Fayed, apparently were being driven at high speed, reportedly chased by photographers on motorcycles. Diana, the most photographed woman in the world, died within hours.

As word of the photographers' purported role in the tragedy spread across Paris and around the globe, popular outrage was swift and far-reaching. Photographers who appeared this morning at Pitie Salpetriere Hospital in Paris, where Diana was taken after the accident, were cursed as assassins by streetside mourners. Cameramen who waited on the streets of London, where her body was flown early this evening, were taunted by bus and taxi drivers, who honked and roared for them to "leave her alone."

Police in Paris continued their investigation of the circumstances surrounding the accident and what role any chase by photographers may have played in the deaths. Photographers encountered by police at the accident site were detained and questioned throughout the day.

Here in Britain, a nation where sensational tabloids like the News of the World eclipse other dailies in readership, calls were heard for new laws to protect privacy and clamp down on the media.

Diana, who had complained of being hounded and harassed by the press during her marriage to Prince Charles and in the year since their divorce, had repeatedly asked for greater restraint.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook was the first to raise the possibility of privacy laws. Politicians began lining up to call for fresh inquiries. David Mellor, a former Conservative Party member of Parliament who has had

his own share of unflattering press coverage, called for newspaper editors to put their houses in order.

"We have to see this, if we are a civilized society, as a turning point," Mellor said in broadcast interviews. "This woman, having complained that she was being harassed beyond the point of endurance only a few days ago, now has been harassed to the point of death."

"Now what do we do about that? . . . We see where this gets us. We see where this prurience, this obsessive interest in other people's social and sexual life gets us," he said.

Newspaper executives said the deaths could well trigger soul-searching. Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, told the BBC that the British press "doesn't sufficiently differentiate between what is in the public domain and what is in the private domain. That is something they are going to have to debate."

Quiet sobs could be heard among the mourners at Kensington Palace, which had been Diana's residence, and at Buckingham Palace, who came to build memorials, flower by flower, to the princess whose fabled marriage never lived up to her dreams or the royal family's demands.

By mid-afternoon, bouquets had turned into thickets. Police said the park outside Kensington Palace, normally closed in early evening, would likely stay open through the night to accommodate the steady, unabating crowds.

Despite tensions between Diana and the royal family, she remained the most popular member of the British aristocracy even after the divorce from Charles. The 36-year-old mother of two sons maintained a busy schedule, devoting much of her time to charities.

"It's not fair," said caterer Paula Thompson, 25, as she wiped away tears. "I tell you, if a paparazzi showed up now, I would kill him. . . . They've got their story -- at a terrible price.

"You know, she was a part of our lives. That's why people are here. For every person who suffered, she suffered. She had empathy. She had sympathy for everyone who was not perfect. . . . I feel like I've lost a very valuable friend and I never even met her."

Sanchia Franks, a 38-year-old homemaker, awoke this morning to the startling news of Diana's death. She turned on the television and watched all morning before deciding to drive to Kensington Gate.

"We all wanted to know about our princess, of course," she said. "And I think if you're in her position, you expect the press. But not this. Not this."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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