England

Jo Cox killing: Grief and disbelief in Birstall constituency

People at scene of tributes in Birstall Image copyright Christopher Furlong /getty
Image caption There is still disbelief at the killing among people in Birstall

Caring, hard-working, dedicated to the people. The tributes continue to pour in for Jo Cox following her shocking killing. And on the streets of the area she served as a local MP, grief is palpable.

Birstall, a large village about five miles from Leeds, is in gridlock. On the approach to its centre, blockades warn of road closures ahead.

The market place - often a hive of retail activity - is as packed as it would be on any other Friday, except today it is lined with the world's press.

"We want Birstall to be famous, but not for this," says resident Ian Blaimers, 69.

He and lifelong friend Brian Doyle, 72, are standing across the road from where the town's MP, Jo Cox, was shot and stabbed just 24 hours ago.

"I had planned to go see her at 1pm," Mr Blaimers says. "At 12.30 I changed my mind. I thought, 'I'll see her another time'."

He stares across the street, where police officers are carrying out a fingertip search outside the library.

"If I hadn't changed my mind, I would've been in the middle of it."

Image copyright AFP/getty
Image caption A number of streets remain cordoned off in Birstall

Blue police tape is wrapped in great loops around lampposts surrounding the square. Cameramen jostle for what limited space there is left to set up their tripods.

"Depressed, is the word," says Mr Doyle. "We've lost someone special."

Journalists outnumber the residents on Birstall's streets. Those who have come out are wary of the intrusion.

"You're the third reporter to come up to me in the last five minutes," one lady says. She looks close to tears.

"You expect this in big cities but not here. It's just a quiet, little place.

"It's going to take a long time to recover from," she says before heading back inside the shop where she works.

Image copyright Christopher Furlong / getty
Image caption Tributes to the Labour MP are being left at the base of a statue to Joseph Priestley in Birstall
Image copyright Dan Kitwood /getty
Image caption A growing number of people have visited the site of floral tributes in Birstall

"It's not just shock it happened, it's shock it happened here," says Sarah Lyle, 44.

She and her friend have just dropped their children off at nursery. They are just one of the many clusters of people gathering at the edges of the town to reflect on what's happened.

"This is a small community, people think of this place as a village, and Jo was such a big figure in that."

She shakes her head. "It's just so surreal."

"The community is scared," adds Jessica Clarkson, 27. "I didn't want to send my kids to school today because it's on the estate where [the alleged attacker] lives."

Her friend, Jodie Britton, 29, rocks her child's pushchair and nods at the media scrum.

"We only voted Jo in a year ago, I think she was one of five people we could choose from - that's how much the community thought of her," she says.

The baby drops a milk bottle on the floor and, as she leans to pick it up, she adds:

"I really don't think people will get over it."

Image copyright PA
Image caption One of the tributes made reference to Jo Cox's passionate defence of refugees

Another resident, who did not want to be named, was possibly more shocked than anyone to hear how the mother-of-two was shot and stabbed on Thursday. He knows the suspect.

"When his image came up on the screen me and my wife said, 'not in a million years'. Of all the people in Birstall that I know, he would've been at the bottom of the list."

The 66-year-old has lived in the town his whole life and, for many years, across the road from suspect Tommy Mair.

He describes him as shy, a loner, a "gentle, kind chap", a well-read man with whom he had talked politics and someone who never hinted at extremist views.

A steady stream of people are walking towards the town centre clutching bouquets of flowers ready to be laid just yards from where Mrs Cox was killed.

As helicopters thump overhead and police officers guard every corner, it would be easy to paint Birstall as a village shattered.

But among the feelings of sadness and fear are those of resoluteness - a desire to come back stronger once the turmoil fades.

Sonya Archer, 44, believes it is what Mrs Cox would have wanted most of all.

"Everyone is devastated, but the positives need to come out of this, particularly because that's what she stood for.

"She was a champion for communities and this will make us go from strength to strength.

"We will move forward."