Page last updated at 17:45 GMT, Monday, 15 March 2010

Tributes paid to Labour MP Ashok Kumar

Labour MP Ashok Kumar
Mr Kumar was found dead at his home on Monday

Tributes have been paid to the Labour MP Ashok Kumar, who has been found dead in his home, aged 53.

Mr Kumar had represented Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland since 1997, after entering Parliament in 1991 as MP for the ancestor seat of Langbaurgh.

Police say they are treating his death as "unexplained" and inquiries are being carried out.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Mr Kumar was "a tenacious campaigner" and "a warm and incredibly generous man".

He said he was "greatly saddened", by the news, adding: "Ashok was a hard-working constituency MP who took pride in representing the people of Middlesbrough as both a councillor and MP since 1987.

"His long-standing campaigns to keep shipbuilding in Teesside were respected by all sides of the House."

Chemical engineer

A spokesman for Mr Kumar's office said his death had come as "a huge shock".

"Ashok was a fine politician who served his constituency and his constituents with diligence and unswerving commitment.

"He was a natural fighter and a community leader."

Mr Kumar became MP for Langbaurgh at a 1991 by-election, but narrowly lost the seat in the 1992 general election.

He stood again in 1997, when the constituency was redrawn as Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, and won with a 10,000-plus majority.

Ashok was a pioneer, a doughty fighter for his constituents and a Labour man through and through
Environment Secretary Hilary Benn

Cleveland Police said they were called to Mr Kumar's home in Marton, Middlesbrough, at 1230 GMT on Monday.

"Officers entered the property and found the body of a man in his 50s. He was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics," a statement said.

"At this stage it is too early to say whether the death is being treated as suspicious and inquiries are ongoing."

A post-mortem examination is due to be carried out.

Speaker John Bercow announced the news of Mr Kumar's death to the Commons.

"Ashok was a most assiduous Member, much respected by the House and by professional background a very fine chemical engineer," he said.

"I am sure members on all sides of the House will join me in mourning the loss of a colleague and extending our sympathy to the honourable member's family and friends."

Former prime minister Tony Blair said his death was "a genuine tragedy and source of real sadness".

Born in India, Mr Kumar was a Commons aide to Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, who said he was "deeply shocked and saddened".

"It is very hard to believe that Ashok is no longer with us," the environment secretary said.

'Untarnished reputation'

"Ashok was a pioneer, a doughty fighter for his constituents and a Labour man through and through who cared deeply for others.

"He was also fearless in pursuit of what he saw as right. I came to value his friendship, his loyalty and his sense of fun over the many years we worked together."

Fellow Labour MP Sir Stuart Bell, whose Middlesbrough constituency neighboured Mr Kumar's, said his death was "tragic".

"He will be mourned by his many friends and colleagues. He leaves behind an untarnished reputation."

The sad and sudden news of Ashok's death is a terrible and unexpected blow
Richard Pike
Royal Society of Chemistry

Conservative MP for Wantage Ed Vaizey also offered his condolences to Mr Kumar's family in the Commons, adding: "He and I became good friends, not least because he was the only MP who had read my father's seminal history of British Steel."

Before entering politics Mr Kumar was a research fellow at Imperial College London and a research scientist for British Steel, and tributes were paid to him by the scientific community.

Richard Pike, chief executive of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: "The sad and sudden news of Ashok's death is a terrible and unexpected blow."

Mr Kumar was also a supporter of the British Humanist Association.

Chief executive Andrew Copson said: "Ashok was especially interested in education, and was opposed to the divisive and discriminatory faith schools system, preferring inclusive schools and objective religious education, not religious instruction.

"In fact, Ashok spoke of the dangers of segregation and religious indoctrination consistently over the last decade, and in almost every Education Bill."

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