A prominent British politician was shot and stabbed after she had conducted meetings with members of her constituency. Labour party MP Jo Cox was shot three times and stabbed at a library in the town of Birstall. The attack happened on the afternoon of June 16. Cox later died of her injuries. She was 41 years old.
Shortly afterwards, Tommy Mair, 52, was arrested by armed police. Cox’s Labour party colleague Maria Eagle tweeted that the attacker shouted “Britain First” before shooting. A possible reference to a far-right political party dedicated to getting the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union.
Cox was the member of parliament for Batley and Spen since 2015. She was also a campaigner Remain campaign in the upcoming referendum in the United Kingdom surrounding membership of the European Union.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Neighbors Described Mair as ‘a Loner’
Another man suffered minor injuries in the attack, reports the Guardian. Mair was arrested along Market Street in Birstall, according to West Yorkshire Police. The newspaper says that the other victim was a 77-year-old man. In a press conference announcing Cox’s death, a police spokesman refused to speculate on a motive.
I am really shocked. He walked past my house this morning and said hello like he always does. He was wearing a grey T-shirt and his white baseball cap like he always does and he was carrying a small rucksack. He is just a quiet bloke who keeps himself to himself.
He is very helpful and he helps local people with their gardens. There is one neighbour who is a bit frail and he keeps her garden tidy. He has helped me cut my hedge a couple of times.
He has lived here for 40 years and has never been in any trouble and has never caused any trouble. He sometimes used to shout at the local kids if they played too near his house but that is fairly normal.
I don’t think he belonged to any political party and I never heard him express any views about Europe or anything like that. To us, he was just Tommy, a local bloke we all knew.
While another man who knows Mair, David Pickles, I know he spent a lot of time in the library in town and liked to go on the computers there – I don’t know what he was looking up. A friend of Mair’s mother, Mary, told the Guardian that Mair “practically lived in the library. He was obsessed with books. His house is full of them.” She added that the suspect last visited his mother the day before the shooting and that the attack was “totally out of character.”
A man who said he’s known Mair for years, Nick Gannon, told the Guardian:
It’s shocking. He were a quiet guy, you would not think it of him. He would cut elderly people’s grass voluntarily. There were no reason to think he would be capable of something like this.
He was friendly. If you said hello to him, he would say hello back. He was not aggressive or anything. He wasn’t frightening.
Mair was a native of Kilmarnock in Scotland and never held full-time employment, reports the Daily Telegraph. His brother, Scott, told the newspaper, “I am struggling to believe what has happened. My brother is not violent and is not all that political. I don’t even know who he votes for. He has a history of mental illness, but he has had help.”
2. He Once Said That Working at a Local Park Was Better Than ‘All the Psychotherapy & Medication in the World’
Mair was quoted in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner in May 2010 in a story dealing with workers at a local park. The piece says he got the job after being referred by a local clinic for adults with mental health problems. He told the newspaper at the time:
I can honestly say it has done me more good than all the psychotherapy and medication in the world. Many people who suffer from mental illness are socially isolated and disconnected from society, feelings of worthlessness are also common mainly caused by long-term unemployment.
All these problems are alleviated by doing voluntary work. Getting out of the house and meeting new people is a good thing, but more important in my view is doing physically demanding and useful labour.
When you have finished there is a feeling of achievement which is emotionally rewarding and psychologically fulfilling. For people for whom full-time, paid employment is not possible for a variety of reasons, voluntary work offers a socially positive and therapeutic alternative.
Although the Batley News, in reporting the same story at the time as the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, says that Mair used the word “physiotherapy” not “psychotherapy.”
In a blog post at the far right Springbok Cyber Newsletter’s website, Mair is described as “one of the earliest subscribers and supporters of “S.A. Patriot.” On the magazine’s website, it’s described as being pro-free market capitalism and patriotism and anti-political correctness and “expansionist Islam.”
3. One Witness Said the Gun ‘Looked Homemade’
A witness, cafe owner Clarke Rothwell, told the BBC that he heard a “loud popping noise that sounded like a balloon burst – a loud balloon.” He added:
When I looked round there’s a man stood there in his 50s with a white baseball cap on and a jacket with a gun, an old fashioned looking gun in his hand.
He shot this lady once and then he shot her again, he fell to the floor, leant over shot her once more in the face area.
Somebody tried to grab him, wrestling with him and then he wielded a knife, like a hunting knife, just started lunging at her with a knife half a dozen times. People were screaming and running from the area.
While another witness, Hithem Ben Abdallah, described the gun as “handmade” to the BBC. He also said, “The man stepped back with the gun and fired it and then he fired a second shot, as he was firing he was looking down at the ground. He was kicking her as she was lying on the floor.”
4. Mair’s Half-Brother Is Mixed-Race
The Guardian reports that Mair has two brothers, Scott, and a half-brother, Duane St. Louis. The newspaper says that Mair’s mother, Mary, had a second marriage to a man named Reginald St. Louis. Duane St. Louis said that Mair had never been in trouble with the law and that the two had never had arguments over politics. St. Louis did say that the pair’s other brother, Scott, has been in jail for “half his life.”
5. Cox’s Husband Brendan Is an Advisor to Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown
On her Twitter page, Cox described herself as:
Mum. Proud Yorkshire Lass. Labour MP for Batley & Spen. Boat dweller. Mountain climber. Former aid worker.
Cox told the Yorkshire Post in December 2015 that she lived in a houseboat that’s moored by Tower Bridge. She bikes to work. Cox was married with two children, Lejla and Cuillin. Her husband, Brendan, is prominent in the Remain campaign and is an advisor to former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
In a Sky News profile, Cox wass described as being the former Head of Policy at Oxfam International.
In the initial aftermath of the attack, Deputy Leader of Britain First Jayda Fransen said that the reports of “Britain First” being shouted were “hearsay.” Fransen was speaking to the London Broadcasting Corporation when she said, “We are not hearing anything from within our organisation. We are as shocked as anyone.” She added, “An attack on an MP is an attack on democracy and we condemn the attack on Jo Cox.”
The Independent reported in May 2016 that Britain First had threatened “direct action” against London Mayor Sadiq Khan. During Khan’s confirmation, Britain First candidate Paul Golding, turned his back on Khan.