Lee Rigby was talked out of Afghanistan return

Lee Rigby's family outside the Old Bailey yesterday. Picture: Getty
Lee Rigby's family outside the Old Bailey yesterday. Picture: Getty
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LEE Rigby’s family yesterday said that the murdered soldier had been “taken to everybody’s hearts like a son” as they remembered a man who had served his country in Afghanistan.

On the day that two Muslim fanatics were found guilty of killing Fusilier Rigby, a statement from his family described the anguish the killing of the 25-year-old father had caused.

“No-one should have to go through what we have been through as a family,” the statement said. “We are satisfied that justice has been done, but no amount of justice will bring Lee back. These people have taken him from us forever but his memory lives on. We will never forget him.

“We are very proud of Lee, who served his country, and we will now focus on building a future for his son Jack, making him as proud of Lee as we all are. Lee will be sorely missed by all who loved him.”

In an interview, his mother Lyn Rigby, stepfather Ian Rigby and sister Sara McClure described their pride in a soldier who had cheated death when facing the Taleban, yet had been hacked to death on the streets of London.

Mr Rigby said his stepson’s killers – Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale – had used religion as an excuse.

“You’d want to know what could possibly be in their brains that could make them do something like this. Maybe it would make me understand a little bit,” he said.

“It doesn’t make any sense that he was just walking down a road and this happened to him.

“It was two individuals; it wasn’t anything to do with religion. They’re using religion as an excuse for whatever they’ve been brainwashed with.”

Mr Rigby said he believed that the soldier’s death had brought people together.

“Lee’s death has united the country… it’s made us all one big family, it feels like part of one massive family. That’s how it made us feel.”

Mr Rigby added: “It shocked the nation and it made Lee part of everybody’s life, not just ours.”

Mrs Rigby described Lee as a young man who had wanted to join the British Army since he was four.

“There was never any other career he wanted to do. Always the army was number one and he followed his dream and obviously I supported Lee’s decision as that’s what he wanted to do. And we backed him all the way.”

Having served in Afghanistan, she was relieved when he came back to the UK, and later took up a recruiting post based in London in 2011.

“I thought he’d be safe. You rest up easy – they’re not in the war zone, and back home, doing a job that he loved doing. Nothing ever enters your head.”

His sister Sara said she persuaded Lee not to return to ­Afghanistan.

She said: “To everybody else he was the most selfless person. He would do anything for anybody. He was strong. But he wasn’t, really. He rang me not long ago. He was quite upset. He wanted to go back to Afghanistan and he was going to request a post and I talked him out of it and now I wish I hadn’t.”

She first told her mother about news reports that a soldier had been killed in Woolwich, and later that evening Mrs Rigby received the devastating news.

Breaking down, Mrs Rigby recalled: “I was just going up to bed. I put the bedroom light on and the door went. I knew straightaway. I went to the window and there was four gentlemen in black suits and I started crying, as I knew it was Lee.

“I went downstairs, I opened the door. That was it. I don’t remember much from there, I just fell on to the couch and everything was just a blur from there.

“I had to phone Sara and tell Sara it was Lee. That was so hard.”

She said that the television coverage of the atrocity made the ordeal worse. “That was the worst bit. Losing your son and having to watch as well.”

Fusilier Rigby was born in Crumpsall, Manchester, in July 1987, the eldest of five children. He grew up on the huge Langley estate in Middleton. Educated at Queen Elizabeth High School in Middleton, he was a keen sportsman with a lifelong ambition to join the army.

In 2006, after successful completion of his infantry training course at Catterick, he was selected to be a member of the Corps of Drums and posted to 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, also known as the Second Fusiliers.

He married Rebecca Metcalfe, a recruitment consultant, at St Anne’s Church, in Southowram, West Yorkshire, while based at Catterick in the early days of his army career.

His first foreign posting was as a machine gunner in Cyprus.

In April 2009, he was deployed on operations for the first time to Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, where he served as a member of a “fire support group” at patrol base Woqab.

His unit took part in numerous firefights with the Taleban and regularly had to patrol ground strewn with improvised explosive devices.

His courage was tested every day, but his commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Jim Taylor said: “He was not found ­wanting.”

‘Once a Fusilier, always a Fusilier’: Lee Rigby’s former commander’s poignant tribute

Lee Rigby’s fellow soldiers have been “rocked” by the details that emerged during the trial of his two murderers, his former commanding officer has said.

Lieutenant Colonel Jim Taylor described the 25-year-old as “a true warrior” and called his murder “a cruel tragedy”. He said: “The thoughts of every soldier and officer in the Second Fusiliers are very firmly with the family and friends of Fusilier Rigby. We hope the conclusion of this trial brings even a small amount of closure in the aftermath of this horrific crime.

“Many in the battalion, particularly those in the Drums Platoon, have been rocked by the details that have emerged over the last weeks. We have all taken tremendous comfort from the support that so many people have offered.

“This includes in particular the very diverse community of Woolwich which has continued to build on its already deep ties with the army.

“Fusilier Rigby was a highly dedicated and professional soldier. He was one of the true characters within the Second Fusiliers and he is missed greatly. He was a true warrior, having served with distinction in Afghanistan. That his life was ended in this way was a cruel tragedy. Once a Fusilier, always a Fusilier.”

Fusilier Rigby joined the army in 2006 and his first posting with the battalion was in Cyprus.

He undertook training as a machine gunner in Jordan, and in early 2008 moved to Hounslow, west London, as part of a battalion move, when he was stationed outside the Royal Palaces and took part in the Household Division’s Beating Retreat.

In April 2009 he was called to serve in Afghanistan as a member of the Fire Support Group in Patrol Base Woqab, Musa Qala.

After a second stint of public duties in the UK, he was stationed in Germany to be ready for contingency operations, and then in 2011 he took up a recruiting post in London, where he also assisted at regimental headquarters in the Tower of London.

At the end of the prosecution case, the court was read a statement from retired Brigadier Ian Liles, who described Fusilier Rigby, known as “Riggers”, as an “extremely professional, popular and witty” soldier who was perfectly suited to a recruiting role. He said: “His outgoing personality made him ideal, and he had a natural affinity with young people.”

Killing created fertile ground for far-right

News that a British soldier had been killed by two Muslim extremists sparked an anti-Islamic backlash and a rise in the profile of far-right campaigners in the days after Lee Rigby’s death.

Attacks were staged on mosques and there was a surge in online abuse after the news that two fanatics had picked out a serviceman in the street, run him over and then hacked him to death.

The Association of Chief Police Officers said 71 incidents were reported to its national community tension team over five days after Drummer Rigby was murdered on 22 May.

Tell Mama, the charity which monitors anti-Muslim incidents, said it received more than 150 reports in the days after the father-of-one died, compared with an average of four to eight incidents a day before.

England’s most senior police officer, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, also revealed that the number of reported hate crimes against Muslims rose from one to eight a day in the wake of the killing.

The incidents included arson attacks at an Islamic centre in Grimsby, and a Muslim community centre and a boarding school in London. The Bravanese Community Centre in Muswell Hill was burned to the ground on 5 June. The building was daubed with the letters EDL, but far-right group the English Defence League denied any involvement.

The second target was Darul Uloom Islamic School in Chislehurst, south-east London, where nearly 130 pupils and staff had to be evacuated. Teachers managed to extinguish the flames and two pupils were treated for smoke inhalation at the scene.

The EDL moved into the spotlight when then-leader Tommy Robinson was filmed making heated comments as members gathered near the scene within hours of Fusilier Rigby’s death.

Robinson was filmed shouting: “Enough’s enough. We have weak leaders, weak police. Our police, our leaders tiptoe around this issue. This issue is political Islam. It’s political Islam that is spreading across this country.”

In the following weeks the police stopped marches by the EDL and the British National Party passing near the scene to avoid inflaming tensions. Robinson and his deputy Kevin Carroll have since quit the group.