Police in Northern England are now looking into whether parliamentarian Jo Cox‘s alleged killer was connected to far-right extremism.
A 52-year-old man arrested at the scene where Labour MP Cox was shot and stabbed has been identified in multiple reports as Thomas (Tommy) Mair. In the hours since Cox, called a “rising star” in British politics, was killed on a street in the community of Birstall, claims about the suspect’s alleged far-right views and his mental health history have emerged.
Now, police in West Yorkshire say that speculation is a factor in the investigation.
“We are aware of the speculation within the media in respect of the suspect’s link to mental health services and this is a clear line of enquiry which we are pursuing,” West Yorkshire Police temporary chief constable Dee Collins said in an update Friday.
“We are also aware of the inference within the media of the suspect being linked to right-wing extremism, which is again a priority line of enquiry which will help us establish the motive for the attack on Jo.”
Discussion of Mair’s purported far-right leanings emerged out of reports a witness claims the suspect shouted “Britain First” or “Put Britain first” during the attack — the so-called Brexit.
Britain First is the name of a right-wing, nationalist group that is opposed to immigration, accepting refugees and is pushing for Britain to exit the European Union.
Cox, a rookie parliamentarian, was a vocal advocate for immigration, diversity and accepting refugees. She had been an active supporter of Britain staying in the European Union. A referendum on the U.K.’s status in the EU will be held next Thursday.
Britain First, whose motto is “Taking our country back,” has attempted to discredit reports Mair shouted the phrase during the attack and is accusing the “Vote Remain” (in EU) side of trying to exploit Cox’s killing for its campaign.
Regardless of whether Mair is connected to Britain First, the Guardian. reported Friday police searched his home and found “samples of Nazi regalia and far-right literature.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center said it has records showing Thomas Mair was a supporter of the National Alliance. The centre said Mair purchased a manual from the group in 1999 that included instructions on how to build a pistol.
On its website, the centre published copies of a receipt showing that a Thomas Mair of West Yorkshire – the county where Cox and her suspected killer both lived – bought publications including “Chemistry of Powder and Explosives” and “Improvised Munitions Handbook.”
The suspect’s family members were stunned by the news Mair was accused of killing Cox, who would have turned 42 next week.
Britain’s Sky News spoke with Duane St. Louis, reportedly Mair’s half-brother, who said he “recognized him in handcuffs on the ground.”
“I just couldn’t believe he’d do something like that,” the Guardian reported him telling Sky News “I phoned my mum and she was watching too. She tried to phone his mobile but couldn’t get through and she knew something was up.”
St. Louis reportedly said he had no knowledge of his step-brother holding any sort of racist or political views, the Guardian reported.
Scott Mair, another brother, told the Telegraph he is “struggling to believe” what his brother is accused of.
“My brother is not violent and is not all that political,” Scott Mair told the Telegraph. “I don’t even know who he votes for. He has a history of mental illness, but he has had help.”
With files from The Associated Press