Distraught Rigby family struggle to come to terms with loss
‘You don’t expect something like that on your doorstep,’ says stepfather
The mother and stepfather of murdered soldier Lee Rigby, Lyn and Ian Rigby, and his wife Rebecca Rigby, grieve as his stepfather reads a family statement, at the Regimental HQ of his unit, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, yesterday in Bury, Greater Manchester, England. Photogaph: PA/Getty
The memorial behind them recalls the men of the Lancashire Fusiliers who died in battles from the Retreat from Mons to Passchendaele in the first World War to the jungles of Burma in the second World War.
However, the Rigby family lost their 25-year-old son, Lee, not on a foreign field that will remain glorious, if only to a few loved ones, but rather on a South London street, butchered as he walked alone.
“When [he was] in Afghanistan, you come to terms with it, you know it’s dangerous. [But] you don’t expect something like that on your doorstep,” said Ian Rigby, the Royal Regiment of Fusilier soldier’s stepfather said, in between tears.
And the tears came in crushing torrents from his mother, Lyn; his sister, Sara McClure; his mother-in-law, Susan Metcalfe, along with his wife, Rebecca. His three youngest step-sisters, Chelsea and Courtney, both 11, and Amy (8), did not attend.
Drummer Rigby had married Rebecca Metcalfe in 2007, but they later separated, though the two were making efforts to get back together.
“I love Lee and always will. He was due to come up this weekend so we could continue our future together as a family,” she said.
On the night before he died, Rigby had sent what turned out to be his final mobile telephone text to his mother – one that will now be treasured in the way old cards and letters were treasured a century ago by the families of the fusiliers listed on the board behind them.
“Goodnight Mum, I hope you had a fantastic day today because you are the most fantastic and one in a million mum that anyone could ever wish for. Thank you for supporting me all these years, you’re not just my mum you’re my best friend. So goodnight, love you loads,” it read.
Lyn (46) sat quietly, her eyes filled to the brim with tears, as the text was read out, silently gripping a teddy bear, dressed in khaki and displaying the regiment’s hackle – one of a collection Rigby was building for his son.
The family’s nightmare began with the first confused reports from Woolwich that a man had been killed, followed moments later by reports that the victim was a soldier going to or leaving the east London army barracks.
“Really, as soon as it came on the news on television, obviously we didn’t know it was Lee but your heart skips a beat when you see something like that on TV, you know your son is in that area,” Ian Rigby said.
The family had been no stranger to worry.
In 2009, Rigby served as a machine-gun gunner in Sangin in Helmand province in Afghanistan during some of the heaviest Taliban attacks upon the British army.
That year alone, the British lost 108 men – a quarter of all of the losses sustained during the conflict. Rigby’s unit lost six, including one of his best friends killed in a roadside bomb blast.
Reading from a prepared statement, Ian Rigby, who had to break off at times, said: “What can we say about Lee, our hero, we are so, so proud of Lee. When Lee was born the family adored him, he was a precious gift given to us.
“Lee had a fiery temper when he was younger, I used to sit on him to calm him down till he got too big at 15, then he used to sit on me.
“Lee’s dream growing up was always to join the army, which he succeeded in doing. He was dedicated and loved his job. Lee adored and cared a lot for his family, he was very much a family man, looking out for his wife, young son Jack, younger sisters, whom in turn they looked up to him. He always had a banter with them but would never ever let any harm come to them.
“He was over the moon being a dad and uncle, he adored them all,” his stepfather went on, adding, “Lee was a man who loved people. He believed life was for living and he will be sorely missed by all who knew him.”