HE NEVER wanted to be a hero, but a year after the tragedy that thrust him on to the national stage, the passer-by who tried to protect MP Jo Cox outside Birstall Library has been rewarded with the country’s highest civilian honour.
Bernard Kenny had intervened when Thomas Mair attacked Mrs Cox as she left her surgery in the West Yorkshire town on June 16. At 78, he thought he could jump on Mair’s back and take him down, he later told police.
Afterwards, as he lay in hospital seriously injured, more than 80,000 people signed a petition demanding his actions be recognised with the George Medal.
“At this time when the country is dominated by fear and hate, we think that a man motivated only by selfless courage and love should be honoured in this way, and quickly,” the petition said.
Bravery ran through Mr Kenny. A former member of the Gomersal Mines Rescue team, he had tried to save victims of the Lofthouse mine disaster in 1973.
This time, his calling came when he least expected it. He had been waiting for his wife outside the library when he saw what he thought was an attacker setting on Mrs Cox.
“I thought he was thumping her until I saw the blood,” he said. “I saw he had a knife in his hands. It was what I call a dagger. The blade was about nine inches.
“Just as I got short of him, he turned around and saw me. He shoved the knife in and it hit me in the stomach. The blood started pouring out between my fingers. I saw the blood and I thought ‘Oh my God’.”
Mr Kenny was not the only hero of the hour. Pc Craig Nicholls and Pc Jonathan Wright, the two West Yorkshire Police officers who arrested Mair, have both been awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal.
Mrs Cox’s senior caseworker, Sandra Major, who witnessed the killing, receives an MBE for parliamentary services and service to the community.
The Queen’s Birthday Honours List also awards the George Medal, posthumously, to a hero of another attack. Pc Keith Palmer was stabbed to death when he confronted attacker Khalid Masood outside the Houses of Parliament in March.
Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, said he had “paid the ultimate price for his selfless actions”.
The 48-year-old officer came face to face with the knife wielding Masood moments after he drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge. Intent on protecting the public, he ignored the obvious danger and confronted the attacker. By the time armed officers had shot and killed Masood, PC Palmer had been fatally wounded.
His citation on the gallantry list says his actions created time for other officers to react and stop the assailant.
It states: “Pc Palmer’s bravery and professionalism unquestionably saved lives. Pc Palmer did his duty. He stood his ground and placed himself between Parliament and a terrorist determined to harm those within.”
Pc Palmer had been with the Met for 16 years.
Four other victims were killed in the Westminster attack.
Ms Dick said: “I know that I speak on behalf of all of my officers and staff when I say how immensely proud we all are that Pc Palmer is to receive posthumously the George Medal for bravery.
“It is an honour that could not be more deserved and I know it will mean a great deal to all those who knew and loved him.”