‘My pain is too much’: Jo Cox’s last words as she lay dying in street

Police say right-wing extremism a key line of inquiry as suspect Thomas Mair questioned

People lay flowers and leave tributes in Parliament Square in central London in memory of Labour MP, Jo Cox who was shot dead in a street attack, not far from her northern England constituency office. Video: REUTERS

 

Tearful tributes have been paid to late British Labour MP Jo Cox as it emerged her last words after being shot and stabbed in the street on Thursday were “my pain is too much”.

The anti-Brexit campaigner’s colleagues will remember her when parliament is recalled on Monday, four days after the 41-year-old was killed in the street outside her constituency advice surgery in Birstall.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said police forces are contacting MPs around the country to give security advice following the killing of the Labour MP.

Defiant MPs have said they will go ahead with constituency surgeries in the wake of the death.

British police said on Friday that right-wing extremism was an important line of inquiry in the killing after a man with suspected neo-Nazi links and a history of mental illness was arrested in relation to it.

Ms Cox was shot and stabbed on Thursday by a man who witnesses said shouted “Britain first”, in her own electoral district near Leeds in the county of West Yorkshire in northern England.

Her killing has left Britain in shock and campaigning for next week’s referendum on European Union membership has been suspended as a mark of respect.

Officers arrested a 52-year-old man, named by British media as Thomas Mair, near the murder scene and he remains in custody, where he is being questioned by detectives. He has not been charged.

Police said counter-terrorism officers are also involved in the investigation into the attack, which occurred as Cox arrived for a meeting with constituents.

In Birstall, a quiet town of a few thousand people, weeping mourners laid flowers at a monument near the scene of the attack. One message read: “Fascists feed on fear.”

“It is a vile act that has killed her,” Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party which Ms Cox represented, said as he laid flowers in Birstall with prime minister David Cameron on Friday. “We will not allow those people that spread hatred and poison to divide our society.”

The father of Ms Cox’s assistant, Fazila Aswat, has described how his daughter tried to comfort her after the attack, which left her bleeding copiously.

“She tried to help her, she tried to hit [the attacker] with her handbag, but he tried to go at her. People came so he followed them and he came back again and shot her again twice,” former Labour councillor Ghulam Maniyar told ITV News.

“There was lots of blood. She said ‘Jo, get up’ but she said ‘No, my pain is too much, Fazila’. And I think those were the last words Jo spoke. She [Fazila] could not do anything else. She tried to comfort her.”

Police are investigating possible links to right-wing extremism in their investigation into the killing. West Yorkshire Police said they are working with the North East Counter Terrorism Unit as the inquiry continues.

Tommy Mair (52), was detained shortly after the attack and remains in police custody.

His brother Scott has spoken of his shock at what happened, claiming Mair is “not a violent man and is not that political”.

It has emerged a Thomas Mair has been named in a newsletter produced by a right-wing organisation which has called for a return to apartheid-style government in South Africa and been linked to the Neo-Nazi organisation National Alliance (NA) dating back to 1999.

In a visit earlier on Friday to the West Yorkshire town where Ms Cox was killed, British prime minister David Cameron issued a plea for tolerance in British political life as he joined Jeremy Corbyn to pay tribute.

The sombre-faced prime minister, Labour leader and Commons Speaker John Bercow bowed their heads as they laid bouquets at the foot of Birstall’s Joseph Priestley memorial, adding to the impromptu shrine of flowers and messages which has grown up over the past day.

Across the market square from where they stood, police tape still cordoned off the spot where the former aid worker and mother-of-two was killed in what Mr Corbyn described as “an attack on democracy”.

Mr Cameron said the nation was “rightly shocked” at Ms Cox’s death, and called for people to “value, and see as precious, the democracy we have on these islands”. Politics was about public service and MPs wanted to “make the world a better place”, he said.

Mr Cameron added: “Where we see hatred, where we find division, where we see intolerance, we must drive it out of our politics and out of our public life and out of our communities.

“If we truly want to honour Jo, then what we should do is recognise that her values - service, community, tolerance - the values she lived by and worked by, those are the values that we need to redouble in our national life in the months and years to come.”

Both the Remain and Vote Leave sides have suspended national campaigning in light of the death of Ms Cox, who entered Parliament as MP for Batley and Spen in last year’s general election.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have announced they will not contest the byelection resulting from her death, giving Labour a probable free run at retaining the Westminster seat which she won with a majority of 6,057 last year.

In an apparent reference to the referendum campaign, German chancellor Angela Merkel urged British politicians to “draw limits” around the language used in political debate, warning that otherwise “radicalisation will become unstoppable”.

Speaking alongside the prime minister in Birstall, Mr Corbyn described Ms Cox as “an exceptional, wonderful, very talented woman, taken from us in her early 40s when she had so much to give and so much of her life ahead of her”.

He paid tribute to the “truly wonderful” statement made by Ms Cox’s husband Brendan, which he said was a message that “in her memory we should try to conquer hatred with love and with respect”.

Members of the media from across the world gathered in Birstall market square to witness the rival party leaders stand shoulder-to-shoulder in memory of Ms Cox.

A group including Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff, Manchester Withington MP Jeff Smith and Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell wiped tears from their cheeks and shared an embrace as they laid flowers near the scene of the murder.

Mair, described by family members as having a history of mental illness, was arrested and police said a firearm was recovered after the attack on Ms Cox.

Britain First, a far-right nationalist group, denied any links with Mair but a US civil rights group said he had been associated with a neo-Nazi organisation.

Though the killer’s motives were not immediately clear, some financial market analysts suggested sympathy for Ms Cox could boost the Remain campaign, which opinion polls indicate had fallen behind Leave. It was not clear when campaigning would resume, with six days left before the vote.

Police said they were not in a position to discuss the motive of the attack and a full investigation was under way. There have been no charges in connection with the killing.

“Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy and a zest for life that would exhaust most people,” Ms Cox’s husband, Brendan, said.

“She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.”

The deputy leader of Britain First, Jayda Fransen, distanced her group - which describes itself as “a patriotic political party and street defence organisation” - from the attack and described it as “absolutely disgusting”.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights group based in Alabama, said on its website that it had obtained records showing a Thomas Mair had links with the neo-Nazi organisation National Alliance (NA) dating back to 1999.

Pistol-building manual

The SPLC posted images showing what it said were purchase orders for books bought by Mair, whose address is given as Batley in northern England, from the NA’s publishing arm, National Vanguard Books, in May of that year. The orders included a manual on how to build a pistol, it said.

Reuters was unable to verify the report independently.

Britain’s Union flag was flying at half-mast over the Houses of Parliament, Queen Elizabeth’s London residence Buckingham Palace and Downing Street, where British prime minister David Cameron has his official residence.

The queen was due to write a private letter of condolence to Ms Cox’s husband and members of the public and politicians, many weeping, laid flowers outside the Houses of Parliament.

Beside a picture of Ms Cox smiling, dozens of white candles lay beside bunches of flowers and a message board, on which people had written their condolences.

“You can’t kill democracy,” read one message on Parliament Square. Another said: “We will unite against hatred.”

Others put flowers on the houseboat on the River Thames where Ms Cox lived with her husband and two young children, aged three and five.

Shares, oil and bond yields rose after campaigning in the EU referendum was suspended, reversing earlier losses this week which followed a swing in opinion polls towards the Leave camp.

British politicians paid tribute to Ms Cox and expressed shock at the killing, as did leaders across Europe and the world.

US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said she was horrified. German chancellor Angela Merkel called the attack “terrible”, adding she did not wish to link it to the EU referendum.

The implied probability of a vote to remain rose to 67 per cent, up from 65 per cent on Thursday, according to Betfair odds.

Ms Cox had arrived in Birstall for a “surgery” in a library with members of the public, a one-to-one meeting much like when a patient consults a doctor.

In Westminster, where politicians do much of their work in parliament, armed police patrol the entrances, corridors and halls, but there is often no security in their home electoral districts, or constituencies.

Tempers can flare during surgeries and parliamentarians are often subjected to abuse on social media.

Ms Cox had complained to police after receiving “malicious communications” and a man was arrested and later released with a caution in connection with the investigation in March.

A spokeswoman for the House of Commons said it was reissuing security advice to MPs and advising them to contact their local police if they have any concerns.

Mr Mair’s brother said the suspect had not expressed strong political views, the Guardian newspaper reported.

‘Mental illness’

“He has a history of mental illness but he has had help,” the Guardian quoted his brother, Scott Mair, as saying. “My brother is not violent and is not all that political. I don’t even know who he votes for.”

Neighbours described a man who had lived in the same house for at least 40 years and helped locals weed their flowerbeds and inquired after their pets.

“I’m totally devastated - I didn’t want to believe it. He’s been very helpful to me. Anything I asked him to do he did very willingly and sometimes without my needing to ask,” said next-door neighbour Diana Peters (65).

“I saw him the day before. I was taking my cats to the vet and he came and asked me how they were,” she told Reuters.

Gun ownership is highly restricted in Britain, and attacks of any nature on public figures are rare. The last British politician to have been killed in an attack was Ian Gow, who died after a bomb planted by the IRA exploded under his car at his home in southern England in 1990.

Politicians were earlier warned to review their security after Ms Cox’s killing.

A Number 10 spokeswoman said a reminder of safety guidance has been sent out to MPs.

The advice includes steps representatives can take to stay safe when they are “out and about”.

Reuters/PA