LEIGH-ON-SEA, England – For the second time in just over five years, a British lawmaker meeting with voters has been killed in public view, this time in a distinguished seaside town, where the victim, a member of the Conservative Party of Parliament, was fatally stabbed on Friday inside a church.
The attack stunned the British political establishment, raising questions about the safety of lawmakers at a time when the country is already on edge, pissed off by food and fuel shortages, and unraveled by a political culture that is became more and more raw and combative following Brexit.
Lawmaker David Amess, 69, was a longtime member of the House of Commons known for his soft voice and harsh views on Brexit. He was engaged in the daily political routine of meeting with voters when the attack occurred in Leigh-on-Sea, at the mouth of the Thames, about 40 miles east of London.
Police said they arrested a 25-year-old man on suspicion of murder and recovered a knife from the scene. But they did not identify the perpetrator or provide further details. They said the investigation would be carried out by counterterrorism agents, suggesting it would be treated as an act of terrorism.
“It will be up to investigators to determine whether or not this is a terrorist incident,” said Ben-Julian Harrington, chief of police for Essex. He called it a “tragic day” in which the life of an official was “horribly cut short”.
The death of Mr Amess, known as much for his campaign for animal welfare as for his criticism of the European Union, hinted at a similar attack in 2016, days before the British voted by referendum on leaving the European Union. Jo Cox, a Labor MP who opposed Brexit, was killed when a right-wing extremist targeted her outside a meeting with voters.
In 2010, another Labor lawmaker, Stephen Timms, was stabbed twice in the abdomen by an Islamist extremist, but survived.
Mr Amess’ death shocked MPs, who expressed outrage at the attack, paid tribute to his long service to the government and recoiled at another example of sudden violence inflicted on a politician circling around the country. local constituency.
“David was a man who believed passionately in this country and its future and today we have lost a good civil servant and a much loved friend and colleague,” visibly shaken Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a televised statement.
Mr Johnson described Mr Amess as “one of the nicest, kindest and kindest people in politics”, who, he added, had “an outstanding record in passing laws to help the most vulnerable “.
House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said in a statement: “This is an incident that will send shock waves through the parliamentary community and across the country. Mr. Amess, he said, “has built a reputation for kindness and generosity” during nearly four decades in government.
In Britain, most MPs hold regular meetings, called surgeries, to allow voters to raise issues. While rallies allow politicians to maintain contact with voters, they can also make lawmakers, who often travel unprotected, vulnerable to security breaches. In the 2019 general election, lawmakers complained about being the target of abuse on social media, some of which feared could turn into violent attacks on the streets.
Mr Amess was scheduled to hold a meeting with constituents at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, a district of Southend, when the attack occurred. Photographs taken on site showed a number of emergency responders and a cordoned off area around the church. Police said officers responded to reports of a stabbing shortly after 12:05 p.m. and that Mr Amess died at the scene.
“We are not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident and do not believe there is a continuing threat to the general public,” police said.
A father of five, Mr. Amess first entered Parliament in 1983, when Margaret Thatcher led the Conservative Party. He first represented the Basildon headquarters in Essex, where his election solidified a wave of support for the Tories in that region. He changed constituencies to Southend West in 1997, a seat he held in every subsequent general election.
A Roman Catholic who campaigned against abortion, Mr. Amess was a social conservative and a staunch supporter of the British monarchy.
Members of the community gathered at a Catholic church on Friday evening where a mass was celebrated for Mr. Amess. By this time, a small memorial for Mr. Amess had taken shape on the street past the church where he was attacked.
“He was a madman in particular who decided to take extreme measures,” said Alan Hart, a local councilor, who had consulted Mr Amess on several occasions and described him as a “brilliant” representative, although the two have not always done so. agree on policy.
Mr Hart said that while the attack was concerning, politicians must be able to organize intimate face-to-face gatherings with voters in the communities they represent. “We have a very healthy political scene in this country,” he said. “It is important that this accessibility continues.
Fears over the vulnerability of lawmakers increased after the attack on Ms Cox, who was shot and stabbed by a right-wing extremist during a meeting in her parliamentary constituency of West Yorkshire in northern England. The attack took place in the feverish days leading up to the Brexit referendum, and the attacker, Thomas Mair, an unemployed gardener, was sentenced to life in prison.
Ms Cox’s husband Brendan Cox reacted to news of the latest attack on Friday on Twitter. “Attacking our elected officials is an attack on democracy itself,” he wrote. “There is no excuse, no justification. It’s as loose as it gets.
Across the political spectrum, lawmakers and other prominent Britons have recalled Mr Amess’ gentle manners and his work on behalf of animals.
“He was extremely kind and kind,” Carrie Johnson, the Prime Minister’s wife, said on Twitter. “A huge animal lover and a true gentleman. It is so unfair. Our hearts go out to his wife and their children.
“Sorry,” wrote Tracey Crouch, a fellow Conservative MP. “I could write oars about how Sir David was one of the nicest, most compassionate and valued colleagues in Parliament. But I can not. I feel sick. I’m lost. Rest in peace. A little light went out in Parliament today. We will miss you.”
In Leigh-on-Sea, known for its annual regatta and folk festival, news of the attack reverberated through the normally quiet tree-lined streets.
“It doesn’t really happen, it’s a quiet and nice area,” said Alysha Codabaccus, 24, who lives in an apartment a few doors down from the church. “I mean, it literally happened in a church.”
At Mojo’s Seafood, a small white shack that serves fresh fish from the nearby coast, customers have expressed their horror and sadness. One of them highlighted the impact on Mr. Amess’ family. “He has five children,” the man said softly.
Lee Jordison, who works in a butcher’s shop 100 yards from the church, said he heard sirens and saw armed officers running down the street, upsetting the typical autumn afternoon calm, and knew instantly that something was wrong. He said a shaken woman told him that people had run away from the church shouting, “Please come here quickly, he’s not breathing!”
Mr. Jordison said he had met Mr. Amess a few times. “He always used to visit our store,” he said. “He was a very nice guy since I met him. He had plenty of time for the community.
Megan Specia reported from Leigh-on-Sea, and Stephen Castle and Mark Landler from London.