The death of Conservative MP David Amess was terrorism, police say
British police said early Saturday that the killing of a leading backbencher MP for the ruling Conservative Party was terrorism, with evidence of “potential motivation” related to “Islamist extremism”.
The statement came just after midnight local time after Sir David Amess, dubbed a “fine official” by the Prime Minister, was killed on Friday after being stabbed several times at a constituency meeting in southeast England.
The London Metropolitan Police said searches of two addresses in London – not far from the crime scene in Leigh-on-Sea, in Essex – were ongoing. “These are still running,” it said.
No direct information was given about the whereabouts of the searched addresses in the capital.
Police said a 25-year-old man arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder was British.
“The senior national counter-terrorism coordinator, Deputy Deputy Commissioner Dean Haydon, officially declared the incident to be terrorism,” the Met said in a statement. “The early investigation revealed a potential motivation related to Islamist extremism.”
The force said the investigation was being led by officers from the Met’s Counter-Terrorism Command who worked closely with the Eastern Region Specialist Unit and Essex Police.
Amess’s death raised new concerns about the safety of MPs at their constituency sessions.
He is the second MP to be killed in such circumstances in just over five years after Jo Cox was stabbed to death by Labor in 2016 shortly before it was scheduled to hold an “operation” in which MPs meet face-to-face with local people to hear their concerns.
Stephen Timms, another Labor MP, was seriously injured when he was stabbed to death at such a constituency meeting in 2010. On Friday evening, Timms praised Amess as a “kind and generous man”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also praised Amess as one of the “kindest, nicest, gentlest” people in parliament. “We lost a good official and a beloved friend and colleague today.” Johnson said Amess was “passionate about this country and its future”.
Amess, 69, was a Tory MP for nearly four decades and represented Southend West since 1997.
He was conducting an operation for voters in the Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea when a man walked into the building and stabbed him several times.
Essex police said at the time that a 25-year-old man had been arrested “on suspicion of murder” and a knife had been seized.
Interior Minister Priti Patel has called on all forces to review the security precautions for MPs with immediate effect, said the Interior Ministry.
Patel said Amess’s death constituted “a pointless attack on democracy itself”, adding that “questions are rightly being asked about the security of our country’s elected officials”.
Amess’s death highlighted the increasingly hostile environment MPs have faced in recent years, including social media abuse.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, praised Amess as a man dedicated to his constituency and said the incident would “send tremors to the parliamentary community and the whole country”.
“In the coming days we will need to discuss and review the safety of MPs and any action that needs to be taken, but for now our thoughts and prayers go with David’s family, friends and colleagues,” he added.
Amess himself pointed out how threats against MPs have made them less accessible to voters. In his memoir, published that year, he wrote: “These mounting attacks have tainted the great British tradition of open meeting of the people with their elected politicians”.
Amess was first elected MP in 1983 when Margaret Thatcher was the Conservative Prime Minister.
He was a supporter of Brexit, a member of the “Leave Means Leave” advocacy group, and an advocate for animal welfare.
Amess was a practicing Catholic and supported socially conservative values. He leaves behind his wife Julia, a son and four daughters.
Praise for Amess came from across the political spectrum. Opposition Labor Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said it was “a dark and shocking day” for Britain, adding, “We have been heartbreakingly here before.”
Jacqui Smith, a former home secretary and chair of the Jo Cox Foundation, which was established after her assassination, said: “This is a tragic loss for those who knew and loved Sir David. . . I knew him as a generous and committed colleague in Parliament. Public life must be safe for those we ask to serve in our democracy. “
Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, described the death of Amess as “tragic and terrible” news. “A really terrible day for British politics, but above all, our prayers are with all of the people who loved David,” he said.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister and Chair of the Scottish National Party, also paid tribute to Amess.
“In a democracy, politicians have to be accessible and open to scrutiny, but nobody deserves to be killed while working for and representing their constituents,” she said.