British oil executive 'shot protecting wife after violent mugging'
THE senior British ExxonMobil executive who was shot dead in the street in Brussels may have been trying to protect his wife after a violent mugging, prosecutors said yesterday.
Nicholas Mockford, 59, was shot four times after leaving an Italian restaurant in Neder-over-Heembeek, a Brussels suburb, on October 14.
Prosecutors said Mr Mockford appeared to have been killed in a “handbag theft which went wrong”, but some relatives remained sceptical and said they thought he had been murdered in a “professional hit”.
After the killing Belgian prosecutors imposed a news blackout which was only lifted yesterday.
A friend of the family said they were concerned Belgian police and felt they had “not been looking too hard” for Mr Mockford’s killers and had failed to “manage the investigation effectively”.
Mr Mockford and his wife Mary were leaving an Italian restaurant in the suburb Neder-over-Heembeek shortly after 10pm when they were attacked by two men.
One of the men hit Mrs Mockford “several times in the face” before snatching the bag she was carrying on her shoulder.
The second man then shot Mr Mockford three times and once as he lay on the ground. Mrs Mockford was left cradling her husband in the street as she shouted for help.
A retired fireman tried to resuscitate Mr Mockford as he lay dying on the ground.
“As I came out of my front door, I could see the lady in the road screaming, help, help and the man lying on the ground by his car,” the man said.
“I went to give him first aid, he had wounds on his chest and shoulder. She was crying and saying something about a white van. I could not see one. Then the emergency services arrived.”
Another friend of Mrs Mockford’s who has spoken to her about the incident said: “The two men tried to grab her handbag, asking for money and the couple’s car.”
While witnesses appeared to suggest the attack was a robbery gone wrong, there were claims in Belgium yesterday that Mr Mockford had been assassinated by eco-terrorists angered by ExxonMobil’s involvement in Nigeria, Chad and Indonesia.
ExxonMobil, one of the world’s biggest companies, is a favourite target for green activists.
One contributor to a Belgian news website wrote: “Carjackers don’t execute someone with shots to the head, fail to steal the car and leave a witness alive. This has to do with the environment.”
Police are now appealing for information about the attackers, who were wearing helmets. They fled the scene on motorbike or scooter.
They also want to speak to the driver of a white van which was seen driving past the Mockfords at the time of the shooting.
Mrs Mockford yesterday declined to comment at the couple’s £500,000 home in Grimbergen, a Belgian spa town near Brussels. Her face was still bruised from the attack.
The prosecutors claim they were unable to release any information about the case because there a “judicial instruction” from the investigating judge meant they could give no explanation about the killing.
“This is usual in such a serious investigation,” a spokesman said.
Mr Mockford joined Exxon Chemical in 1974 after studying economics at Thames University.
After working his way up the ranks he became a technical support manager for “intermediate technologies” at ExxonMobil Chemicals in Brussels, developing new chemicals for products including detergents, lubricants and polymers.
He moved to Brussels in the 1990s and married his second wife Mary, who is Belgian. He has three grown-up children from his first marriage, all of whom live in Britain.
He was bought up in Leicestershire before living in Southampton, Chichester before working in Singapore and Brussels.
Mr Mockford gave a speech about “phthalate plasticisers”, additives used to make plastic more flexible, in Shanghair, China, two years ago. A spokesman for ExxonMobil said: “We have no indication that the incident was work related.”