Robin Cook dies at 59

Statesman, parliamentarian and conscience of New Labour collapses on mountain

As tributes to the former minister poured in last night, it emerged that Mr Cook had been climbing a remote mountain in north western Scotland with his wife, Gaynor, when he suffered a suspected heart attack at about 2.20 yesterday afternoon.

The couple were enjoying a secluded and gentle walk up Ben Stack, a 2,365ft mountain popular with hillwalkers which lies five miles from the coast, when he collapsed suddenly near the summit.

It emerged last night that a coastguard rescue helicopter scrambled from Stornaway in the Western Isles took some 30 minutes to arrive after Mrs Cook raised the alarm on the mobile phone of a fellow hillwalker. Meanwhile, she desperately tried to revive her husband, a keen hillwalker who was known for this love of the Highlands.

Guided by medical experts via telephone, the helicopter crew then fought for a further 40 minutes to save his life where he fell, using cardiac resuscitation as Mrs Cook looked on.

There were unconfirmed reports last night that the former Foreign Secretary had suffered serious injuries after he collapsed, and fell further down the mountain.

After they failed to revive him, the crew flew Mr Cook to Raigmore hospital some 70 miles away in Inverness, where their Sikorski helicopter arrived at about 4pm.

The former foreign secretary was pronounced dead at 4.05. He was 59.

His death was formally announced by Northern Constabulary nearly three hours later. It is thought the force waited until his first wife, Margaret, and their two sons had been informed.

"Mr Cook apparently took ill while walking with his wife Gaynor on Ben Stack and was removed by Stornoway coast guard helicopter to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness," a police statement said.

It is understood that Mrs Cook had to walk down the mountain because there was not enough room on the helicopter. A police report into his death will be prepared for the area's procurator fiscal, the Scottish state prosecutor - a routine part of the legal process in such circumstances.

Mr Cook, the Labour MP for Livingston, near Edinburgh, was a keen hillwalker, and regularly spent his summer holidays with close family and friends enjoying the dramatic mountain scenery of Highland Scotland rather than going abroad.

A keen sportsman, Mr Cook was also an avid race-goer and pundit who wrote racing columns for Scottish newspapers before becoming Foreign Secretary when Labour were first elected in May 1997.

In emotional tributes last night, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, described Mr Cook as one of the "greatest parliamentarians of all time".

He was first elected to Parliament for Edinburgh Central in 1974, and then becoming the Labour MP for nearby Livingston in 1983. He became one of the most potent and vocal critics of the war in Iraq after resigning as Leader of the House of Commons on the eve of the invasion in March 2003.

A regular columnist for The Independent, he wrote trenchantly about the Iraq war and the row about whether Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. As a backbench MP, he kept up his attacks on Tony Blair's Middle East strategy and close political relationship with US President George Bush.

His resignation speech is considered one of the finest ever made in the Commons, and he had remained a powerful and influential voice until his death yesterday. At the last election, Mr Cook retained his seat, a Labour stronghold, with just over 50 per cent of the vote.

As Foreign Secretary in Labour's first term, he sought to implement a more ethical approach to Britain's relations with the rest of the world. Mr Cook himself had listed his proudest achievements in Government as: "Breaking the deadlock in the Lockerbie case; defending Kosovo; saving lives and relieving suffering in Sierra Leone; contributing to the fall of Milosevic; transforming Britain's relations with Europe; rebuilding respect for Britain in the world."

A leading figure in the Labour Party for decades, Mr Cook was put in the key job of Foreign Secretary when the party won power in 1997. After his resignation from the Cabinet in protest at the Iraq War in 2003, he repositioned himself as a supporter of the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and made repeated calls for Tony Blair to step down as Prime Minister in his favour.

Mr Cook's devotion to enhancing the role of Parliament as Leader of the Commons made him a popular figure among backbench MPs, and his powerful resignation speech on the eve of war won him great respect from opponents of military action.

Mr Cook's death comes three years after a health scare that resulted in him being admitted to hospital after fainting in a central London restaurant, where he had been eating with his wife. Although his diary, published last year, avoided spelling out the nature of his complaint, it did refer to a consultation with a cardiac specialist.

He wrote on his discharge from hospital: "St James's Park has never looked more lovely or the tourists more cheerful. There is nothing like a mild intimation of your mortal frailty for reminding you of the beauty of life."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test