THE grieving family of murdered soldier Lee Rigby have paid a touching tribute to him, speaking of their immense pride and love.
His wife, Rebecca, and stepfather, Ian Rigby, fought back tears as they spoke about him at the HQ of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in Manchester.
“I love Lee and always will,” Mrs Rigby, mother of their two-year-old son, Jack, said. “I am proud to be his wife, and he was due to come up this weekend so we could continue our future together as a family.
“He was a devoted father to our son Jack and we will both miss him terribly.”
Drummer Rigby, 25, from Langley, in Middleton, Greater Manchester, was hacked to death near Woolwich barracks in south-east London on Wednesday. Two suspects were shot and arrested at the scene and remain in police custody.
The young soldier was attached to the regimental recruiting team in London and had served tours in Afghanistan.
Mrs Rigby said: “You don’t expect it to happen when he’s in the UK – you think they’re safe.
“His proudest moments were serving in London on the ceremonials with the drum corps.”
Drummer Rigby’s stepfather read out a statement on behalf of, and prepared by, the whole family: “What can we say about Lee, our hero – we are so, so proud of Lee. When Lee was born, the family adored him. He was a precious gift given to us.
“Lee had a fiery temper when he was younger – I used to sit on him to calm him down till he got too big at 15, then he used to sit on me.”
Mr Rigby said his stepson had dreamed of serving in the armed forces from a young age.
“Lee’s dream growing up was always to join the army, which he succeeded in doing. He was dedicated and loved his job”, he said.
“Lee adored and cared a lot for his family. He was very much a family man, looking out for his wife, young son Jack, younger sisters. He always had a banter with them but would never ever let any harm come to them.
“He was over the moon being a dad and uncle – he adored them all.”
Mr Rigby, 54, at times swallowing hard as he tried to contain his emotions, went on: “Lee was a man who loved people. He had many friends growing up in Middleton and on army duties all over the world.
“He believed life was for living and he will be sorely missed by all who knew him.
“Courtney and Amy, his younger sisters, wrote this for Lee: ‘Rest in Peace Lee, we loved you so much, you didn’t deserve this, you fought for your country and did it well. You will always be our hero. We are just upset you left us so early. Love you Lee, goodnight’.”
Mr Rigby told of his stepson’s last “goodnight” text to his mother, and added: “We would like to say goodnight Lee, rest in peace our fallen soldier, we love you loads and words cannot describe how loved and sadly missed you will be.
“We would like to thank everybody, the police and army, for the amazing support we have received and for all the goodwill wishes we are receiving from all over the country.
“Our hearts have been ripped apart from us, everyone is struggling to cope with this tragedy, so we would ask the press to respect our privacy to grieve our son’s parting as we try to come to terms with this.”
He then read out a poem, a tribute to Lee from an unknown poster on Facebook. It read:
“You fought bravely and with honour died,
“You leave your family so full of pride,
“Sleep well young soldier, your job is done,
“Your war is over, your battle won.
“Our family chain is broken and nothing is the same,
“But as God takes us one by one,
“Our chain will link again.”
Mr Rigby was flanked by Rebecca; his wife and Lee’s mother, Lyn Rigby; Lee’s sister Sara McClure, 24, and members of the wider family. Lee’s other sisters, Chelsea, Courtney, 11, and Amy, eight, were not present.
The family agreed to take a few questions, but did not want to be asked about politics, racism or the incident itself, which is subject to an ongoing police investigation.
Asked how proud Lee was to serve Queen and country, Mr Rigby replied: “Extremely. He’s always wanted to serve in the army. He’s been all over – Cyprus, Germany, Jordan.
“When in Afghanistan, you come to terms with it, you know it’s dangerous. You don’t expect something like that on your doorstep. It’s very difficult.”
Mr Rigby was asked how he found out about the incident. He said he saw it on television and tried to contact his stepson immediately.
“Obviously we didn’t know it was Lee, but your heart skips a beat when you see something like that on TV – you know your son is in that area,” he said.
“As soon as it was on the telly, we were attempting to get hold of Lee. Obviously we couldn’t, and it was the middle of the night probably when we got confirmed to us it was Lee.”
Asked what the family would miss most about Lee, his wife said: “Everything.”
Mr Rigby added: “Everything. His love for his family, his incredible sense of humour. He was a loving son and wonderful father. I just can’t tell you how much …”
Drummer Rigby used to collect teddy bears for his son and the family took one to the press conference, dressed by Lee in the infantry uniform and with the Fusiliers’ feathered “hackle” on the cap.