Friends, neighbours and former miners have joined calls to award the George Cross medal to the pensioner who tried to save Jo Cox.
Bernard Kenny, 77, was stabbed in the stomach as he went to the aid of the Labour MP, who was fatally stabbed and shot last Thursday.
Kenny arrived home on Monday afternoon under a police escort, having spent four nights in Leeds General Infirmary.
A statement from the family on the West Yorkshire police website read: “Bernard and his family would like to express their sincere condolences to the family of Jo Cox, a very sad loss for the community.
“We would also like to thank people at the scene, the police, ambulance service and the staff at LGI who were excellent in dealing with the situation.
“Finally, many people have shown great kindness over the last few days; this has been much appreciated by the whole family, but now we hope you will respect the fact that we need time and privacy for Bernard to recover.”
There are growing calls for the former miner to be recognised for his act of bravery. Colin Frith, a dance teacher who gave first aid to Kenny, described him as a “true hero” whose heroism should be formally commended.
He said: “Anyone who is prepared to put his own life at risk in order to save somebody else’s I think is a true hero and definitely deserves to be awarded with an act of bravery medal.
“In any situation like that it comes down to an individual, how you’re going to react, and thank goodness he was there to react that way.
… The act of courage and the bravery it took for him to do that was just fantastic.”
Kenny, who is due to turn 78 on Wednesday, shares his birthday with Cox, who was 36 years his junior. He was waiting outside Birstall library in his car after taking his wife there to return a book when he saw the MP being attacked and stepped in.
Described by neighbours as a private man who keeps fit by swimming regularly, it has emerged that the father of two helped to save dozens of colleagues in the Lofthouse colliery disaster in 1973. Seven miners died as water rushed into the Wakefield pit.
On Monday, David Hopper, the general secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association, backed calls for Kenny to be awarded the George Cross as a petition exceeded 6,000 signatures.
A separate GoFundMe page is also raising money for him.
“What he did is to be highly commended. This is in the true traditions of mining – if anyone is in trouble you try to help them out,” Hopper said.
“Unfortunately his efforts weren’t successful in the outcome, but we admire his courage and bravery. We wish him all the best in his recovery from his injuries. It makes you really proud of our traditions when men of that age are pulling off deeds like that. Congratulations to the man and all our best wishes.”
Outside the library where the MP was attacked, Royal Mail worker Jonathan Harvey, 58, backed calls for Kenny’s bravery to be rewarded officially. “I’d like to shake him by the hand. He deserves a police commendation. I like to think I would have done the same but you don’t know how you’re going to react in that situation,” he said.
Harvey, who has lived in the area since he was two years old, said he was still struggling to comprehend Thursday’s attack but that he had been moved by the outpouring of grief from around the world.
He said he had intended to vote out in Thursday’s EU referendum but would now vote for remain in tribute to the fallen MP.
“I’m going to vote in now and I think a lot of people will. Jo was all for staying in,” he said. “Jo and her office have done a lot of work for me. I’ve never spoken to her but felt I knew her. She was a sparkling personality.”
In 1973, Kenny was a member of the Gomersal Mines Rescue Brigade when he and his colleagues rushed to the scene of the Lofthouse colliery disaster.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Evening Post on the 30th anniversary of the disaster, he said: “It was rough. The conditions we had to work in were rough. I’ve never seen conditions like it and I never want to see them again. It was very bad.
“We never gave up, but it was rough. You were up to your neck in water and breathing apparatus was needed because there was a high percentage of gas. “But we went on with it because you ought to do. It was your duty to try and help them and it was sad when it had to be called off.”
Despite his best efforts, Kenny did not believe the rescue workers got anywhere near the trapped men. “Nobody really knew where they were and when you saw what damage it had caused you just thought to yourself, ‘Well, I don’t think we ever will find anybody.’ But you kept on hoping and kept on looking,” he said.
Neighbours have also called for Kenny’s bravery to be recognised with a medal.