LONDON — British Conservative lawmaker Sir David Amess was stabbed to death on Friday during a routine meeting with constituents at a church in eastern England, an attack that united the UK’s fractious politicians in shock and sorrow.
A 25-year-old man was arrested at the scene with a knife.
Witnesses said the attacker stormed into the church and attacked Amess, 69, a veteran MP and married father of five. stabbing him multiple times.
The Essex Police force said officers were called to reports of a stabbing in the seaside town of Leigh-on-Sea just after noon Friday and later said the victim had died.
“He was treated by emergency services but, sadly, died at the scene,” the force said.
Police confirmed “a man was arrested and a knife recovered.”
A motive wasn’t given and the suspect wasn’t identified. The suspect is being held on suspicion of murder, police said.
“We are not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident and do not believe there is an ongoing threat to the wider public,” police said.
The attack occurred as Amess was holding his regular weekly meeting with constituents at the Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea.
An eye-witness, identified as Anthony, told radio station LBC that the scene was “completely and utterly swamped by police, ambulance, armed police.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was chairing a meeting with senior ministers in the west of England but promptly returned to London following news of the incident.
“The reason I think people are so shocked and saddened is above all he was one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics,” he said of Amess, calling him “a much-loved friend and colleague” and “a fine public servant.”
Amess had been a member of Parliament for Southend West, which includes Leigh-on-Sea, since 1997, but a lawmaker since 1983. He was a well-liked MP, known for a ceaseless campaign to have Southend declared a city.
He also sought various avenues in parliament to honor Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. In 1997, a statue of Wallenberg he had campaigned relentlessly for was unveiled in London by Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles and Israeli president Ezer Weizman.
In January this year, he called the event “one of the proudest moments of my life,” and urged the government to redouble efforts against antisemitism, during a speech to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Amess was the Honorary Secretary of the Conservative Friends of Israel from 1998, and was regarded as a longtime friend of the UK Jewish community.
“Although I myself am not a Jew but a Catholic, there is Jewish blood in each and every one of us. I would certainly have been proud to have been born a Jew, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with our local Jewish community,” he said in the January speech.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter that Amess “always stood with the Jewish community and was a true friend of Israel.”
From Israel, we send our deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Sir David Amess. He always stood with the Jewish community and was a true friend of Israel.
May his memory be for a blessing.
— יאיר לפיד – Yair Lapid???? (@yairlapid) October 15, 2021
Amess was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015 for his service, becoming Sir David.
Politicians from across the political spectrum expressed shock and sorrow at the death of Amess, who leaves a wife and five children. Flags at Parliament were lowered to half-staff.
Former prime minister Theresa May said it was “a tragic day for our democracy”.
“A decent man and respected parliamentarian, killed in his own community while carrying out his public duties,” she added.
Conservative lawmaker Tracey Crouch tweeted: “Heartbroken. I could write reams on how Sir David was one of the kindest, most compassionate, well-liked colleagues in Parliament. But I can’t. I feel sick. I am lost.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party tweeted: “Elected representatives from across the political spectrum will be united in sadness and shock today. In a democracy, politicians must be accessible and open to scrutiny, but no one deserves to have their life taken while working for and representing their constituents.”
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer called the news “horrific and deeply shocking.”
Johnson’s wife Carrie Johnson wrote on Twitter: “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.”
Violence against British politicians is rare, but concerns have grown in recent years about the increasingly bitter polarization in politics. In June 2016 Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox was fatally stabbed and shot in her northern England constituency. A far-right extremist was convicted of her murder.
Cox’s widower, Brendan Cox, tweeted that “Attacking our elected representatives is an attack on democracy itself. There is no excuse, no justification. It is as cowardly as it gets.”
In a book last year called “Ayes & Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster”, Amess noted that Cox’s death had prompted new security guidance to MPs which threatened to limit their access to constituents.
“I myself have over the years experienced nuisance from the odd member of the general public at my own property,” he wrote.
“These increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians.”
British lawmakers are protected by armed police when they are inside Parliament, and security there was tightened after an attacker inspired by the Islamic State group fatally stabbed a police officer at the gates in 2017.
But politicians have no such protection in their constituencies. Amess published the times and locations of his open meetings with constituents on his website.
“This is an incident that will send shockwaves across the parliamentary community and the whole country,” House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said. “In the coming days we will need to discuss and examine MPs’ security and any measures to be taken, but for now, our thoughts and prayers are with David’s family, friends and colleagues.”
Two other British lawmakers have been attacked this century during their “surgeries,” regular meetings where constituents can present concerns and complaints.
Labour legislator Stephen Timms was stabbed in the stomach and injured in May 2010 by a female student radicalized by online sermons from an al-Qaida-linked preacher.
In 2000, Liberal Democrat lawmaker Nigel Jones and his aide Andrew Pennington were attacked by a man wielding a sword during such a meeting. Pennington was killed and Jones injured in the attack in Cheltenham, England.