Unemployed gardener, 53, given whole-life sentence for murder of MP that judge said was inspired by white supremacism
An extreme rightwing terrorist has been sentenced to prison for the rest of his life for the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox after a seven-day Old Bailey trial in which he made no effort to defend himself.
Thomas Mair repeatedly shot and stabbed Cox in an attack during the EU referendum campaign in June. While attacking her he was saying: “This is for Britain”, “keep Britain independent”, and “Britain first”, the court heard.
The judge said Mair would have to serve a whole-life sentence due to the “exceptional seriousness” of the offence: a murder committed to advance a cause associated with Nazism.
Mr Justice Wilkie refused Mair’s request to address the court, saying he had already had opportunities to explain himself, and had not done so.
Cox, the judge told Mair, was not only a “passionate, open-hearted, inclusive and generous” person, but a true patriot. He, on the other hand “affected to be a patriot”.
“It is evident from your internet searches that your inspiration is not love of country or your fellow citizens, it is an admiration for Nazis and similar anti-democratic white supremacist creeds,” Wilkie said. “Our parents’ generation made huge sacrifices to defeat those ideas and values in the second world war. What you did … betrays those sacrifices.”
Mair had “betrayed the quintessence of our country, its adherence to parliamentary democracy”. By not having the courage to admit his crime, the judge added, he had forced the prosecution to prove their case in detail, which “no doubt deliberately”had increased the anguish of his victim’s family.
Mair struck on 16 June after Cox got out of a car in Birstall, a small market town in West Yorkshire that was part of her Batley and Spen constituency. He shot her twice in the head and once in the chest with a sawn-off .22 hunting rifle before stabbing her 15 times.
The MP died shortly afterwards in the back of an ambulance, despite emergency surgery. She was 41, and the mother of two children, then aged five and three.
Evidence quickly gathered by police, including books found at Mair’s home and an examination of his online activities, showed him to be obsessed with the Nazis, notions of white supremacy and apartheid-era South Africa.
He underwent an examination by a psychiatrist, who could find no evidence that he was not responsible for his actions as a consequence of poor mental health.
Mair was also found guilty of grievous bodily harm against a passerby, Bernard Carter-Kenny, a retired coal miner who was stabbed when he came to Cox’s aid, possession of a firearm with intent and possession of a dagger. The jury took just over 90 minutes to reach its verdicts.
Mair showed no reaction as the judge denied his request to address the court and was led to the cells. Brendan Cox, the MP’s grieving husband, watched as other family members hugged and wiped away tears.
Earlier, Mair had rolled his eyes as Brendan Cox read a statement to the court in which he paid tribute to his wife and said the family had no interest in her killer.
“We feel nothing but pity for him; that his life was so devoid of love that his only way of finding meaning was to attack a defenceless woman who represented the best of our country in an act of supreme cowardice.”
Speaking outside the Old Bailey after the verdicts, he added: “To the world, Jo was a member of parliament, a campaigner, an activist and many other things. But first and foremost she was a sister, a daughter, an auntie, a wife, and above all a mum to two young children who love her with all their being.
“All their lives they have been enveloped in her love, excited by her energy and inspired by her example. We try now not to focus on how unlucky we were to have her taken from us, but how lucky we were to have her in our lives for so long.”
He also thanked the hundreds of people – on the day of the murder, and the weeks that followed – for their bravery and compassion. “This has been Britain at its best – compassionate, courageous and kind. It’s given us great strength and solace.”
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said the murder was “an attack on democracy, and has robbed the world of an ambassador of kindness and compassion”.
Amber Rudd, the home secretary, said the murder was a “shocking and senseless” attack on the values of democracy and tolerance. “I am determined that we challenge extremism in all its forms including the evil of far-right extremism and the terrible damage it can cause to individuals, families and communities.”
After the verdicts, Sue Hemming, head of special crime and counter-terrorism at the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Mair has offered no explanation for his actions but the prosecution was able to demonstrate that, motivated by hate, his premeditated crimes were nothing less than acts of terrorism designed to advance his twisted ideology.”
Following the verdicts, Richard Whittam QC, prosecuting, told the court that Mair had committed a terrorism offence when he murdered Cox, although the jury had not been told that he was regarded as a terrorist.
There were two reasons for this. Mair was charged with murder, which is a crime under common law and not an offence under counter-terrorism legislation; and the jury was only to be asked to decide whether or not Mair had committed the crime of murder. It was not asked to consider his motivation.
Prosecutors acknowledge privately that the febrile atmosphere in which the EU referendum campaign was waged appears certain to have contributed to Mair’s decision to murder his MP, but this played no part in their case. There was no need to refer to the referendum in order to establish his guilt.
The evidence against the 53-year-old unemployed gardener had been overwhelming. He lived in Birstall and witnesses to the attack included people who had known him all his life. The incident was also captured on CCTV, as was his escape.
Police later found that a library of far-right literature in his bedroom, including books on the Nazis and white supremacism. On top of the bookshelf was a gold-coloured Third Reich eagle with a swastika.
Examination of his browsing history revealed that he had been searching for material about the British national party, apartheid, the Ku Klux Klan, prominent Jewish people, Israel and matricide.
In his closing speech, Whittam said Cox had been the victim of a cowardly attack. “The sheer brutality of her murder and the utter cowardice of her murderer bring the two extremities of humanity face to face,” he said.
Mair never admitted the offences, but nor did he deny them. When he appeared at the Old Bailey last month via videolink from Belmarsh prison in south-east London, he refused to enter a plea. He made clear that he could see and hear what was happening in court, but when asked how he pleaded, he stared down the camera and said nothing. During the trial he did not offer a defence.
As a consequence, not guilty pleas were entered on his behalf to all four charges, as required by law.
Each day during the trial, Mair remained immobile and impassive, staring straight ahead and rarely looking around. He used a notepad, but instead of making notes about the trial, he could be seen to be writing down the names of people in court whom he recognised: a TV journalist, an MP from a neighbouring constituency and a member of Cox’s family.
It was, an observer said, as though he was recording the identities of the people who had come to see him have his day in court.
Speaking from the witness box after the verdict had been announced Cox’s husband said Mair had failed. “The killing of Jo was in my view a political act, an act of terrorism,” he told the court. “But in the history of such acts it was perhaps the most incompetent and self-defeating. An act driven by hatred, which instead has created an outpouring of love. An act designed to drive communities apart which has instead pulled them together. An act designed to silence a voice which instead has allowed millions of others to hear it.
“Jo is no longer with us, but her love, her example and her values live on. For the rest of our lives we will not lament how unlucky we were to have her taken from us, but how unbelievably lucky we were to have her in our lives for so long.”