British politics is in mourning and asking questions about the safety of elected officials after the shocking death of Conservative MP David Amess.
The Tory veteran, who had been an MP since 1983, was fatally stabbed at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea near Southend at midday on Friday.
A 25-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder following the attack. In the early hours of Saturday morning, the Metropolitan Police declared the killing a terrorist incident and that the early investigation has revealed “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism”.
Boris Johnson led the tributes to one of the “kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics”. The 69-year-old MP for Southend West was married with five children.
His death echoes that of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016, who was fatally stabbed as she attended a constituency surgery. Home Secretary Priti Patel said questions are “rightly being asked” about the safety of MPs.
Tributes poured in for Amess, who was first elected the MP for Basildon, before becoming the MP for Southend West in 1997.
Johnson said all our hearts are filled with “shock” and “sadness” as he reacted to the death.
The prime minister said Amess was killed after “almost 40 years of continuous service to the people of Essex and the whole of the United Kingdom”.
He added: “The reason people are so shocked and sad is above all he was one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics.
“He also had an outstanding record of passing laws to help the most vulnerable.”
Brendan Cox, the husband of the late Jo Cox who was murdered in her Batley constituency, said: “This brings everything back.”
“My thoughts and love are with David’s family,” he tweeted.
“They are all that matter now. This brings everything back. The pain, the loss, but also how much love the public gave us following the loss of Jo. I hope we can do the same for David now.”
Former Conservative prime minister David Cameron said: “This is the most devastating, horrific and tragic news.
“David Amess was a kind and thoroughly decent man – and he was the most committed MP you could ever hope to meet. Words cannot adequately express the horror of what has happened today. Right now, my heart goes out to David’s family.”
Amess was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his public service in 2015.
He never served in a ministerial or shadow ministerial role, focussing his efforts on local constituency matters. He was popular with politicians and known for his active contributions to debates – often about issues relating to his Essex constituency or animal rights.
His campaigning efforts in the House of Commons in recent years were most closely associated with the Essex coastal town he served as he ran a campaign to make Southend a city.
Carrie Johnson, the prime minister’s wife, tweeted: “Absolutely devastating news about Sir David Amess.
“He was hugely kind and good. An enormous animal lover and a true gent. This is so completely unjust. Thoughts are with his wife and their children.”
His death is the latest attack on MPs in their constituencies.
The country was rocked when the 41-year-old Labour MP for Batley and Spen was shot and stabbed in her constituency by a far-right supporter on June 16, 2016.
In May 2010, East Ham MP Stephen Timms was stabbed twice in the abdomen by Roshonara Choudhry, an Islamic extremist who claimed she had wanted “to get revenge for the people of Iraq”.
Timms suffered serious injuries and according to police was “extremely fortunate not to have been killed”. He remains an MP.
Nigel Jones, then MP for Cheltenham, was severely injured in January 2000 when he was attacked in his offices by a man with a sword.
Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councillor, was killed in the same attack while trying to defend the then-MP.
He was posthumously awarded the George Medal for bravery.
The attacker, Robert Ashman, had been suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and was deemed unfit to stand trial and was ordered to be detained indefinitely in a secure hospital.
Last year, Amess wrote in his book – Ayes & Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster – about Cox’s murder and how it had “rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians”.
He said he had experienced “nuisance” from members of the public at his home, and would regularly check his locks.
As grim news of the attack emerged, the prime minister rushed back to London from a meeting in Bristol. Colleagues cast Amess as a true gentleman.
Communities Secretary Michael Gove said Amess was a “good and gentle man”.
“He showed charity and compassion to all, his every word and act were marked by kindness. My heart goes out to his family.”
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab tweeted: “Heartbroken that we have lost Sir David Amess MP.
“A great common sense politician and a formidable campaigner with a big heart, and tremendous generosity of spirit – including towards those he disagreed with. RIP my friend.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, tweeted: “Shocked to hear of the attack on Sir David Amess. Praying for him, his loved ones and his staff.
“Our elected representatives must be able to live and work without fear of violence or intimidation if we are to maintain our democracy.”
Councillor John Lamb, who was at the scene of the attack, said: “He’s a family man, he’s got four daughters and a son.
“He’s always trying to help people and especially refugees he’s tried to help.
“He’s a very amicable person and he does stick by his guns, he says what he believes and he sticks by it.”
Amess has been remembered for his charity work, with constituents describing him as a “community man” who would “always turn up”.
Among his charitable work, he was patron and president of the Music Man Project Charity, an international music education service for people with disabilities.
In 2019, he helped the charity – which he was involved with for more than 20 years – organise an event in which 200 children with learning disabilities played music at the Royal Albert Hall.
Flags have been lowered to half-mast outside Parliament following the death of the MP.
Detectives are not looking for any other suspects and have asked witnesses with footage such as CCTV to come forward.