'Fight against the hate that killed her' - husband of British Labour MP Jo Cox makes heart-breaking statement
Witnesses tell of horrific scenes as bystanders attempted to stop attack on MP, write Gordon Rayner, Robert Mendick and Martin Evans
Published 17/06/2016 | 02:30
Jo Cox was on her way to carry out perhaps the most important duty of an MP: meeting her constituents so she could listen to their problems and represent their views.
Her fortnightly surgery had been advertised as starting at 1pm yesterday at Birstall library, but she had arrived seven minutes early, no doubt anticipating a busy afternoon a week before Britain votes on whether to leave Europe.
"No appointment is necessary," she said on her website. "Please just come along." It was this very accessibility, such a fundamental part of Britain's democracy, that made the 41-year-old vulnerable. She was yards from the door when she was approached by a man in a baseball cap, carrying a bag. He appears to have been waiting for her.
Over the horrific moments that followed, Mrs Cox's constituents heroically tried to tackle him as he shot and stabbed her.
He lashed out at them with a knife as he twice reloaded an "antique" single-shot pistol and fired on the Labour MP lying helpless on the ground.
The final shot was to her head at point-blank range. His only words were: "Britain First!" After carrying out the first murder of an MP in 26 years, he walked "calmly away".
It was over in seconds, leaving aides and bystanders desperately trying to resuscitate the MP, while others attended to a 77-year-old man who had been stabbed in the stomach as he tried to intervene. Their efforts were in vain. Mrs Cox was pronounced dead less than an hour later, at 1.48pm.
Hichem Ben-Abdallah, owner of the Azzuro restaurant near Birstall library, rushed to the scene after the first shot.
"There was a guy who was being very brave and another guy with a white baseball cap who he was trying to control and the man in the baseball cap suddenly pulled a gun from his bag," said Mr Abdallah.
He described it as "a makeshift gun, not like something you see on television". After a brief scuffle, he said, the older man stepped back and the attacker grabbed Mrs Cox. "He was fighting with her and wrestling with her and then the gun went off twice and then she fell between two cars and I came and saw her bleeding on the floor.
"I saw a river of people rushing down the hill. They were screaming."
Clarke Rothwell, a gas engineer working nearby also heard the first gunshot. "It was a popping sound, not like you imagine a gunshot," he said. "I turned and saw the woman - the MP - fall to the floor. She had Muslim women around her trying to help. The woman on the floor was screaming in pain and panic. Her friends were screaming and shouting for help.
"The man had an old-fashioned, antique sort of gun that he had to reload manually after the first shot. It had a large barrel, and had to be reloaded down the barrel. After he shot her the first time at pretty much point-blank range he shot her the second time whilst she was lying on the ground. All the time as he was reloading he was stabbing her again and again on the ground in her body and shouting 'Britain First! Britain First! Britain First'."
The killer's motive had yet to be established last night, but Mrs Cox was so passionate about remaining in Europe that she had put out a picture from the previous day from the Thames as her husband Brendan and their two young children, in a motorised dinghy carrying an In flag, helped disrupt Nigel Farage's Brexit flotilla.
Mr Rothwell, who was part of a group of six or eight people around the attacker, said his knife "had a black blade about one foot long". He added: "The attacker then fired one more shot to her head and at that point it looked like she had passed away. There was blood pouring from her all over. She looked to be wounded all over her body.
"One of us, I think his name is Bernard, tried to intervene physically but got stabbed in the stomach, blood poured out of his wound and he fell to the ground. Everybody backed off."
The attacker fled on foot, and Mr Abdallah said: "He walked away very calmly, down the steps. Nobody stopped him - he had a gun."
Sam Watson (17), a student, said that staff from a nearby sandwich shop, D'Licious, went to Mrs Cox's aid with towels, while those from another sandwich shop helped the injured 77-year-old inside to give him first aid.
Mr Rothwell added: "I jumped in my van to try and follow him and maybe knock him over. He threw off his black puffer jacket as he ran away."
The gunman had headed north, where police caught up with him in Risedale Avenue, about a mile away.
Leah Ainley, a resident, said armed police pinned him to the ground.
"There were more than 10 of them at the end," she said. "The man was white and bald. He banged his head on the floor. He just lay on the floor while they were holding him down. He had a bag with him but that's all I saw, I didn't see if he was armed."
Back outside the library, paramedics were trying to save Mrs Cox's life, but less than an hour after the attack a doctor declared her dead.
Brendan Cox had been on his way to Leeds to be by his wife's bedside, but at 3.50, having been told the worst, he used Twitter to post a favourite picture of his wife next to their houseboat on the Thames.