Killing of British MP Jo Cox was a politically motivated murder by pro-Brexit ‘activist’, trial hears

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 1:19pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 November, 2016, 7:00pm

British Labour MP Jo Cox was repeatedly shot and stabbed in a “brutal, cowardly” and politically-motivated murder, the trial of the man accused of the killing was told on Monday.

Thomas Mair was uttering the words “Britain first” and “keep Britain independent” as he carried out the attack one week before the Brexit referendum, Richard Whittam QC, prosecuting, told the Old Bailey.

The killer struck as Cox went about her business in her Yorkshire constituency during the European referendum campaign, in which she had supported the campaign to remain in the EU.

Her final moments – in an assault described by the prosecution as “dynamic, fast-moving and shocking” – were captured by closed circuit television cameras. “It was a cowardly attack by a man armed with a firearm and a knife,” Whittam told the jury. He added: “It was a premeditated murder for a political and/or ideological cause.”

Mair is charged with the murder of Cox ‪on 16 June‬ this year, possession of a firearm with intent to commit an offence, possession of a dagger and grievous bodily harm to a second victim, passerby Bernard Carter Kenny.

The 53-year-old unemployed gardener declined to enter a plea when he appeared at the Old Bailey last month. As a consequence, not guilty pleas to all four charges were entered on his behalf.

Mair is alleged to have accessed a string of internet sites about Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, the Waffen-SS, Israel, matricide and serial killers in the days before Cox was killed. Items later recovered from his home showed he had “strong political and ideological interests”, Whittam told the court.

The jury was told that Mair struck as Cox was on her way to a meeting with voters at the library in his home town, Birstall. The town lies within Batley and Spen, the West Yorkshire constituency to which she had been elected in the 2015 general election.

Cox was 41 when she died, and had two children, then aged five and three. Members of her family, including her parents, Jean and Gordon Leadbetter, and her sister Kim, were in court as Mair’s trial began.

Wearing a black tie and dark suit, Mair sat making notes as the prosecution began to outline its case. The jury was told that the day before Cox was killed, the defendant had gone to the library in Birstall, where he had used a computer to access a number of items, including the Wikipedia page for an online publication called the Occidental Observer.

The far-right publication has a white nationalist and antisemitic perspective, and is concerned with matters such as white identity and western culture, Whittam said.

Two days earlier, at the same library, Mair had viewed Cox’s Twitter feed, the court heard. He had also looked at the Wikipedia entry for Ian Gow, the Conservative MP murdered by the IRA in 1990, and material about the former foreign secretary William Hague, another Yorkshire politician.

Like Cox, Hague supported the campaign to remain within the European Union. The jury heard that Mair also viewed pages about .22 ammunition, including one that offered an answer to the question: “Is a .22 round deadly enough to kill with one shot to a human’s head?”

The court was told that the following day, ‪14 June‬, Mair viewed online material about Nazis, the death penalty in Japan, and serial killers. The jury was shown a series of closed circuit television clips from Birstall, which showed Mair making his way through the town, carrying a bag, on the day that Cox was killed.

He could be seen to be “hovering around” outside the library before Cox arrived with her constituency manager, Fazila Aswat, and case-worker, Sandra Major.

As the judge and jury watched CCTV footage of the actual attack, Mair sat staring straight ahead, ignoring the screens around the court on which it appeared.

Aswat saw Mair approach Cox from behind, stab and then shoot her, then stab both Cox and Carter Kenny, who had attempted to intervene, Whittam said. Then she saw Mair shoot Cox again. During the attack, Aswat could hear Mair saying: “Britain first, this is for Britain, Britain will always come first.”

Cox was shot twice in the head and once in the chest. “She had what the pathologists describe as ‘through and through’ gunshot injuries to her hands, consistent with her hands being used to protect herself,” Whittam said.

In addition, she suffered 15 stab wounds to her heart, lungs, abdomen and right arm. Emergency services arrived within minutes and an emergency operation was conducted at scene but Cox could not be saved.

Carter Kenny, 77, a former miner, survived after surgery.

The court heard that Mair was arrested moments later, with a knife and a firearm in his bag. When the weapon was recovered, Mair declared: “I’m a political activist.”

The case continues.