THE mysterious death of a North-East MP was being investigated by police last night.

Ashok Kumar, the Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP who had been at the heart of the fight to save CorusTeesside Cast Products plant in Redcar, was found dead at his home in Canberra Road, Marton, in Middlesbrough.

Police said the 53-year-old had suffered an accident.

Dr Kumar, only the fifth MP of Asian origin to be voted into Parliament since the war, was praised for his diligent work in the heart of the community.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown last night led the tributes to the MP.

He said: “Ashok was a hardworking constituency MP who took pride in representing the people of Middlesbrough as both a councillor and MP since 1987.

“He was a tenacious campaigner for his constituents and a warm and incredibly generous man.”

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who represented Sedgefield until he stood down from Parliament in 2007, described Dr Kumar’s loss as ‘‘a genuine tragedy and source of real sadness’’.

‘‘Ashok was a dedicated and committed local Member of Parliament, representing Middlesbrough with a real passion and determination to serve the community he was from,’’ he said.

‘‘As a neighbouring MP I saw first hand his commitment to the North-East where the support he received grew year after year.”

Conservative leader David Cameron cancelled a planned visit to Dr Kumar’s constituency on Friday, where he had been due to campaign on behalf of Tory parliamentary candidate Paul Bristow.

Westminster sources confirmed there would not be a by-election for the seat ahead of the General Election, expected to be held in May.

Born in India, Dr Kumar worked as a research scientist for British Steel before being elected as an MP in 1991, when he won a by-election for the Langbaurgh seat.

His first spell in Parliament proved to be shortlived when he lost the seat in the 1992 General Election, but he was re-elected in 1997 to the newlycreated Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland constituency.

David Walsh, Dr Kumar’s agent and close friend, issued a statement on behalf of his office, which said: “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.”

Dr Kumar was a Commons aide to Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, who said he was “deeply shocked and saddened”.

Neighbours described him as a pleasant person who would always say hello.

Harry Grainger said: “When he was home he would always speak to people and he was a really good MP for the area.”

And Henry Etherington, 72, said: “He was a lovely man and when my brother was ill in hospital, he came to visit him.”

Redcar MP Vera Baird said she was shocked and saddened by his death.

“I have had the privilege to have known Ashok since the late Eighties when we were both Labour Party activists in the North-East,” she said.

“The last time we spent a significant amount of time together was in December, when we were both part of a team of local MPs who went to see Gordon Brown to discuss the future of the Corus plant in Redcar. It was a long trip and Ashok was in fine form, you could see how much the future of the plant meant to him.

“It is a loss for Parliament, but a devastating one for his constituents, for whom he was a first-rate constituency MP.”

Fellow Middlesbrough MP Sir Stuart Bell said: “The death of Ashok Kumar, at so young an age, is tragic.

“He has been, for many years, a fine parliamentarian and constituency MP.

“He built up his parliamentary majority and had every expectation of being returned to the House of Commons at the forthcoming election.

“Ashok will be mourned by his many friends and colleagues and he leaves behind an untarnished reputation.”

Middlesbrough Mayor Ray Mallon said: “He was a man of principle who was not afraid to stand up against the establishment or his own party if he felt it was the right thing to do.

“I will never forget his support during the Operation Lancet years when I was suspended from the police.

“Ashok felt the public had been misled and that I was being treated unfairly and he stood up and said so, which was a brave thing to do.”

He added: “In my opinion, Ashok did a great deal for this area. As an MP he spent a lot of time in the constituency meeting the public and doing what he could to help them.

He will be very difficult to replace.”

A police spokesman said: “Officers entered the property and found the body of a man in his 50s. He was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

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

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