Nicholas Mockford: Belgian police hunt killers

The Foreign Office said it was providing consular assistance to Mr Mockford's family

Police in Belgium are searching for a gunman and an accomplice who killed a senior British oil executive on the streets of the capital Brussels.

But 60-year-old Nicholas Mockford's employers, Exxon Mobil, have insisted his death was not linked to his work.

Mr Mockford was shot dead as he left a restaurant with his wife Mary nearly two weeks ago.

Belgian detectives have appealed for witnesses to the shooting, which had not previously been reported in the UK.

Police said two attackers - wearing crash helmets - apparently tried to grab Mrs Mockford's handbag, and then slapped her in the face.

Police say one of the attackers then fired four shots at Mr Mockford.

Detectives initially thought the 14 October killing might have been an attempted car-jacking, because witnesses saw the couple walking across the street to their 4x4 vehicle before the attack.

Cry of 'help, help'

One eyewitness told Belgian television how he twice tried to resuscitate Mr Mockford before an ambulance arrived.

"I heard a noise, 'tack tack', I thought that was bizarre and went outside to look," the man told Flemish television channel, VTM.

"There was a woman lying on the floor on the pavement on the other side of the road. She was crying 'help, help'. There was also a man lying on the street, next to a car. [The] woman shouts out it was a white van."

The neighbour of Italian restaurant Da Marcello, where the couple had been dining, said witnesses initially believed Mr Mockford had been run over by the van.

Da Marcello restaurant, Brussels The attack happened outside a restaurant in northern Brussels

"Suddenly he stopped breathing," he said.

"I reanimated him, he regained consciousness and then he became unconscious again. I reanimated him a second time and then the ambulance arrived.

"Only then did neighbours realise the man had been shot."

He said Mr Mockford had what appeared to be bullet wounds to his chest and shoulder and he also saw blood on his head. Police later found four bullet cases outside the restaurant, he said.

One Belgian officer told the BBC the killing, which happened in Neder-Over-Heembeek, northern Brussels, was a "very strange case" which had now been passed to federal investigators.

There has been some speculation Mr Mockford could have been deliberately targeted because of his job.

But a spokesman for Exxon Mobil said: "We were shocked by the tragic death of Nick Mockford, one of our employees a fortnight ago in Brussels.

"Mr Mockford was a department manager at our office close to Brussels, but we have no indication that the incident was work-related.

"Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues and we are supporting them as best we can at this very difficult time."

The Daily Telegraph reported that Mr Mockford had worked for Exxon Mobil since the 1970s and was in charge of promoting greener fuel alternatives.

The paper said he was born in Leicestershire but had been an expat for a number of years, both in Belgium and before that Singapore.

It was initially reported that police had imposed a news blackout on the attack but this was not the case.

In Belgium, it is common practice for police not to comment on ongoing investigations which may be why the attack was not reported until now.

The Foreign Office said it was providing consular assistance to Mr Mockford's family.

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