Thomas Mair has been convicted of the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox (Batley and Spen). His sentence was a whole life tariff which makes it very unlikely that he will ever be released.
There is something distinctly odd about this case for the reported facts of the case do not seem to hang comfortably together. That Mair killed Cox is clear and his ostensible motive for committing the murder, namely that she was a supporter of the remain side in the EU referendum, is established, but precious little else is satisfactorily explained.
Mair has no revealed previous history of violence, yet his attack on Cox was both sustained and involved not only the shooting of Cox but multiple stabbings. For a supposed first time killer Mair showed surprisingly little panic or squeamishness when confronted with the actuality of attacking someone in such a physically intimate manner. Instead, he was remarkably self-possessed during the attack and afterwards, according to media reports, so much so that when a man called Rashid Hussain tried to intervene during the attack on Cox Mair coolly told him “Move back, otherwise I’m going to stab you” He also reloaded his .22 gun twice, shot Cox three times and stabbed her 15 times. Such determined and unflustered behaviour is unusual, to say the least, for someone who had never done anything like it before. About the only thing amateurish about the attack was the fact that he did not kill the MP quickly.
After the attack, Mair made no meaningful attempt to flee – he was arrested a mile away from the murder – and he did not disguise himself either during or after the attack. A number of people witnessed his attack As the killing was near Mair’s home the odds against him not being rapidly identified were vanishingly small.
After being arrested Mair refused to answer questions put to him by the police, including questions about his political leanings. Again he appeared very self-possessed. Photographs showing him in a custody booth could have been taken of a man waiting quietly in a hospital before he is called for an examination.
During the act of killing he was reported to have shouted “Britain first”, “this is for Britain”, “Britain always comes first” and “keep Britain independent” and when he made his first appearance in court he gave his name as Death to Traitors, Freedom for Britain”. There is some dispute about the exact words but the discovery of a good deal of hard right literature in his home makes such statements plausible. Mair’s behaviour up to this point suggested that he wanted to be caught and to use his trial as a platform to complain about the EU and the support MPs such as Cox gave to it.
At his trial everything changed. When called upon to plead he refused to do so and pleas of not guilty to the various charges were entered on his behalf, as is usual in English courts. The refusal to plead could be interpreted as Mair doing what many politically motivated people do when placed on trial, namely, attempt to remove legitimacy from the court by refusing to acknowledge it. However, people who take that course generally make it crystal clear what they are doing. All that Mair offered was silence until he had been convicted, for he did not give evidence in his own defence.
What his attitude or strategy was in behaving in this manner is debatable because he can have had no meaningful expectation that he would be found not guilty. Hence, he would have had no reason to fear cross examination because the fact that he killed Cox could not be reasonably said to be in dispute and prosecuting counsel would have had little to get hold of or a theme to develop. Mair would have been able to have his own barrister lead him through whatever Mair wanted to say without much fear of the prosecution making him look silly in cross-examination.
After conviction Mair did try to speak before sentence but was refused leave to do so by the judge Mr Justice Wilkie. The ground for the refusal was Mair’s failure to give evidence. This struck me as very rum, so I asked an experienced lawyer whether such a refusal was sound judicial practice and their answer was an unequivocal no. The refusal seems more than a little strange, not least because little if any mitigation was presented by his barrister. Nor, as we shall see later, was Mair’s sanity being brought into his defence.
After sentencing there was one last loose end put into the public arena. The police announced that they were trying to find the person, if any, who sold Mair the gun with which he shot Cox. The gun was legally held by someone other than Mair before it was stolen in August 2015. The police have had more than four months to do that and it is somewhat surprising that they have made no progress to date. It may even be that the police have only just started looking because the Daily Telegraph on 23 November 2016 stated that “ A major manhunt was underway on Wednesday night for the person who handed the 53-year-old loner the modified bolt-action rifle, which was stolen almost a year before the murder.”
What are we to think about Mair’s failure to give evidence? If the man was driven by his politics his natural course would surely have been to make a statement to police detailing his reasons for killing Cox. Moreover, he was distinctly bullish about his motives and politics during the killing and at his first court appearance. He might have been overwhelmed with what he had done and the reality of the circumstances he found himself in. But his calm demeanour after arrest and during the trial itself makes this unlikely and in any case he wanted to speak before sentence.
It is possible although improbable that Mair decided he would refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of the court by failing to either plead or give evidence until he was convicted, and then give whatever message he wanted to put before the public. If so he was thwarted by the judge. However, I can find no media report which either carried details of a protest in court by Mair at being denied an opportunity to speak or of his barrister making representations on his behalf that he should be allowed to speak. It is conceivable that the media collectively decided not to carry details of Mair protesting or his barrister arguing that he should be allowed to speak, but that would surely be stretching credulity past breaking point.
The only really plausible explanations for Mair’s behaviour would seem to be that he is either mentally ill or that he was intimidated by the authorities into not giving evidence.
[Ed: Part II of this essay will be published on Monday, 5th December 2016]