A new normal ... but we’ll never forget Jo

A new normal ... but we’ll never forget Jo

Rev Paul Knight became the face and voice of Birstall when Jo Cox died. Here Press reporter David Miller finds out how he coped in the media spotlight...

On Friday June 17 Rev Knight of St Peter’s Church in Birstall was interviewed 27 times by worldwide media.

His first appearance was at 6.15am on BBC Breakfast News and the last was at 9.50pm on CNN.

In between were constant phone calls and he ended up carrying dozens of scraps of paper with contact details for journalists.

There was also the visit of Prime Minister David Cameron and other dignitaries to deal with.

But over four traumatic days Rev Knight was the voice of calm – a “tour de force” as chamber of trade chairman Anne Thompson put it.

Rev Knight said of Jo Cox’s death on June 16: “I wasn’t immediately on the spot but by 3.30pm I’d given myself over to it.

“There’s no training for something like this. And nothing can prepare you for the shock.

“One of the first emails I got was from the vicar of Woolwich who was there when Lee Rigby was killed.

“He said all you can do is dive in, and that’s what I did, I had to make things up as I went along.”

One of the first questions he was asked by the media that afternoon was about a vigil.

Without having organised one at that stage, he said there would be a service that night at St Peter’s.

Rev Knight and his parish team then set about arranging and promoting a vigil while continuing to field countless media enquiries.

He said: “I realised a vigil was important in that we needed a space for people to come together. We could show our solidarity with each other, comfort one another and express our sadness.”

He added: “I feel it’s been an incredible privilege to be the vicar of Birstall for 19 years.

“And I felt that here I could help tell Birstall’s side of the story – that Birstall is not a place full of extremists, it’s a community full of kind and caring people.”

Rev Knight said that Thursday afternoon schools in Birstall were put in lockdown.

At St Patrick’s RC Primary children were all moved into the school hall and watched a Euro 2016 football match.

On the Friday Mr Cameron and others visited St Peter’s Church and also held private prayers there.

Further public services were held, including a week on from Mrs Cox’s death last Thursday.

Rev Knight said: “A week to the day was I think the right time to bring things to a full stop.

“It was mainly Birstall people who came, some from Batley, and a few from elsewhere, and most of the media had gone by that stage.

“Now we need to get moving and back to some sort of normality, but we’ll never forget Jo.”

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