LEIGH-ON-SEA, England—Leaders from across the political spectrum came together Saturday to pay their respects to a long-serving British lawmaker who was stabbed to death in what police say was an Islamic terrorist-related attack. His death has reopened questions about the security of lawmakers as they go about their work.
The slaying Friday of the 69-year-old Conservative member of Parliament David Amess during a regular meeting with local voters has caused shock and anxiety across Britain’s political spectrum, just five years after Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist in her small-town constituency.
“He was killed doing a job that he loves, serving his own constituents as an elected democratic member and, of course, acts of this are absolutely wrong, and we cannot let that get in the way of our functioning democracy,” British Home Secretary Priti Patel said after she joined others, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to pay tribute to Amess at the church where he died.
Patel said she has convened meetings with the Speaker of the House of Commons, police departments, and UK security services “to make sure that all measures are being put in place for the security of MPs so that they can carry on with their duties as elected democratic members.”
On Saturday, in an echo of the political unity that emerged after Cox’s murder, Johnson of the Conservatives, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Keir Starmer, and the non-partisan speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, arrived at the church where Amess died and laid flowers.
Amess was attacked around midday Friday during his constituency meeting in a church in Leigh-on-Sea, a town 40 miles (62 kilometers) east of London. He suffered multiple stab wounds. Paramedics tried without success to save him. Police have arrested a 25-year-old man for the attack.
The Metropolitan Police has described the attack as terrorism and said its early investigation “revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.” It did not provide details about the basis for that assessment. As part of the investigation, officers were searching two locations in the London area.
Faith leaders from mosques in Southend—Amess’s constituency—condemned the killing of Amess as “an indefensible atrocity.”
In a statement published on the Essex Jamme Masjid website, on behalf of “all Southend mosques,” they said Amess was an “upstanding friend to our Muslim community” and attended key events, including weddings, mosque openings, and the launch of the town’s first Muslim Scout group.
They also offering their thoughts and prayers to Amess’s family, friends, and colleagues.
Speaking of the killing of Amess, the statement says the “murder was an indefensible atrocity, committed on the grounds of a place of worship,” and they “condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”
“This act was committed in the name of blind hatred, and we look forward to the perpetrator being brought to justice,” it reads.
Amess, who leaves a wife and five children behind and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015, died doing an important part of his job—helping out residents in his seaside constituency of Southend West, which incorporates Leigh-on-Sea.
Under Britain’s parliamentary system, lawmakers have direct links with their local voters, often hosting open meetings, or “surgeries.” The meetings often take place in local facilities such as churches and community halls, and are publicly advertised. Amess himself posted online where he would be hosting his surgery on Friday. It was open to all.
“The reason he wanted to use the church was because he wanted to be where the people were,” said Rev. Clifford Newman at the Belfairs Methodist Church where Amess was killed.
“And if you come to somewhere which is in the locality like Belfairs, as opposed to some ivory tower somewhere, people are more likely to feel easier, freer, and more likely to open up to him,” he added.
At the meetings, topics raised can range from national matters such as the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic to more mundane issues such as requests for speed bumps on busy roads or a dispute over a neighbour’s fence. While members of Parliament don’t necessarily have the power to fix the problems directly, they can pressure officials at the national and local levels to get things done.
“I feel as if I have lost a family member. I feel that he was the family of Southend, he was the leader of Southend,” resident Erica Keane, 69, said. “And he was everywhere! He was at the football pitches, he was in the choirs, he was in the pubs. He was everywhere and he was Southend.”
Amess was clearly a popular lawmaker, winning 10 out of 10 elections since he was first sent to Parliament in 1983. He was a social conservative on capital punishment and abortion. While never serving as a government minister, Amess was considered a fixer, a lawmaker able to forge alliances across the political divide.
The Associated Press and PA contributed to this report.