Three bullets were fired outside the Da Marcello Italian restaurant in Brussels
Saturday October 27,2012
By Paul Jeeves
A BRITISH oil executive who was gunned down as he left a restaurant with his wife may have been murdered by eco terrorists incensed at the practices of the US corporation he worked for, detectives believe.
Nicholas Mockford, 60, who worked for oil giant ExxonMobil, died after three bullets were fired at close range into his back and head as his wife watched on in horror outside the Da Marcello Italian restaurant in a suburb of Brussels.
A news blackout has been in place since the murder two weeks ago as the Belgian authorities pursued the assassination theory as the likeliest explanation for the execution-style killing.
A police dossier has been compiled in the days since the murder which is understood to examine several theories – ranging from a botched car theft to assassination by eco terrorists angered at ExxonMobil’s involvement in Nigeria and Afghanistan.
The couple were confronted shortly after 10pm on Sunday October 14 by two men wearing motorcycle helmets. Mr Mockford was ordered to hand over the keys to his £40,000 Lexus 4×4 before being shot as his wife Mary screamed “Help, help”.
As her husband lay in a pool of blood she was slapped repeatedly round the face before the killers fled empty-handed.
Mrs Mockford told police the men had initially demanded cash and the keys to the couple’s luxury vehicle.
After one unsuccessfully tried to snatch her handbag, the other raised a weapon and began shooting.
Referring to Mrs Mockford, a witness to the aftermath of the attack said: “She was clearly shocked – she said the men were demanding money and the car.”
The witness, who asked not to be named but who knows Mrs Mockford through their hairdresser, said she heard three shots being fired, and responded to Mrs Mockford’s screams. The claims initially led to police to list the crime as an attempted car-jacking.
It is common for professional assassins to finish off victims before fleeing, while street robbers are more likely to leave a victim wounded.
As is common in Belgium, the seriousness of the crime initially led to investigating judges withholding crucial information about the murder.
Yesterday prosecutors refused to say if they were investigating a possible contract killing, but confirmed that the men had not attempted to steal the Lexus following Mr Mockford’s death.
Marcello Minacapelli, the owner of the restaurant where the couple had dined, said staff had not noted “anything out of the ordinary” as the couple ate or when they left to make their way to the Lexus. It was then that the killers pounced.
Leicestershire-born Mr Mockford, who has three children by his first marriage, was a manager within the chemicals arm of ExxonMobil and had worked for them for almost 40 years, based primarily in Britain, Belgium and Singapore. He was a department head at the ExxonMobil Belgium office in Machelen, on the outskirts of Brussels, working on promoting greener fuels.
A company spokesman said last night: “We are all shocked by this very tragic death. There is no indication that the incident was work-related.”
The Mockfords lived in a large family home in Grimbergen, an affluent commuter town in the Brussels suburbs. Mr Mockford had been married to Mary, who is Belgian, for 15 years.
The Foreign Office said last night: “We can confirm the death of a British national on October 14 in Brussels and we are providing consular assistance.”