London (Reuters) – A British lawmaker was stabbed to death on Friday in a church by an assailant who lunged at him during a meeting with voters from his constituency, knifing him repeatedly in an attack which politicians described as an assault on democracy.
David Amess, 69, from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, was attacked at about midday in the red-brick Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London.
“David was a man who believed passionately in this country and in its future and we have lost today a fine public servant and a much loved friend and colleague,” said Johnson, who rushed back to London from the west of England after the news broke.
There was no detail about a motive for the killing, the second fatal attack on a British lawmaker in their constituency in the last five years, which has prompted questions about the safety of politicians.
Armed police swooped on the church and paramedics fought to save his life on the floor of the church – where a sign says “All are welcome here: where old friends meet and strangers feel at home” – but in vain.
“Sadly, he died at the scene,” police said. “A 25-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of murder and is currently in custody. We have recovered a knife from the scene and are not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident.”
John Lamb, a local councillor who was at the scene, told Reuters Amess had been stabbed several times.
Colleagues from across parliament expressed their shock and paid tribute to Amess, one of Britain’s longest-serving lawmakers who held regular meetings with voters on the first and third Friday of the month, saying he was diligent in his duties to his local area.
Flags in Downing Street and outside parliament were lowered in tribute.
Amess, married with five children, was first elected to parliament to represent Basildon in 1983, and then stood for Southend West in 1997. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his public service in 2015.
His website listed his main interests as “animal welfare and pro-life issues”. He was popular with lawmakers and known for his active contributions to debates – often about issues relating to his Essex constituency or animal rights.
In his last contribution to the House of Commons last month, he asked for a debate about animal welfare. Residents left flowers beside the church with a tribute: “David Amess RIP Such a gentleman xxx.”
Tragic Day for Democracy
The knife attack at a meeting with constituents has echoes of a 2010 incident when Labour lawmaker Stephen Timms survived a stabbing in his constituency office, and the 2016 fatal shooting of Labour’s Jo Cox just days before the Brexit referendum.
“Attacking our elected representatives is an attack on democracy itself,” Cox’s husband, Brendan, said on Twitter. “There is no excuse, no justification. It is as cowardly as it gets.
“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.”
The speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle said the incident would send shockwaves across the parliamentary community and the whole country, adding the security of lawmakers would have to discussed.
“Questions are rightly being asked about the safety of our country’s elected representatives and I will provide updates in due course,” Home Secretary (interior minister) Priti Patel said.
The Conservative Party suspended all campaigning activities until further notice. Colleagues said Amess was a dedicated parliamentarian and cast him as a true gentleman.
“Heartbreaking to hear of the death of Sir David Amess,” former Prime Minister Theresa May said. “A decent man and respected parliamentarian, killed in his own community while carrying out his public duties. A tragic day for our democracy.”
Johnson’s wife, Carrie, said she was devastated.
“Absolutely devastating news about Sir David Amess. He was hugely kind and good,” she said on Twitter. “An enormous animal lover and a true gent. This is so completely unjust.”