Tributes have poured in for British Member of Parliament Sir David Amess, who was stabbed to death in an attack at his constituency surgery on the Essex coast on Friday.
A man is reported to have run into the building and targeted the Conservative politician, in the second fatal attack on a politician in just over five years. Police said a suspect had been arrested.
Sir David served as an MP for 38 years, initially in Basildon from 1983 before he took on his role representing Southend West from 1997. Boris Johnson, the prime minister, said hearts were filled with shock and sadness over the death of a colleague, noting Sir David was killed in his constituency surgery, after “almost 40 years of continuous service to the people of Essex and the whole of the United Kingdom”.
“The reason people are so shocked and sad is above all he was one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics," he said. “He also had an outstanding record of passing laws to help the most vulnerable.”
An air ambulance arrived at the scene soon after the attack and medical staff sough to save Sir David from his injuries.
His death was later confirmed by Essex Police. “We were called to an address in Eastwood Road North shortly after 12.05pm today,” the force said.“We attended and found a man injured. He was treated by emergency services but, sadly, died at the scene.
A police cordon was erected around the crime scene and armed officers stood outside the church, near a sign that had a photo of Sir David. “A 25-year-old man was quickly arrested, after officers arrived at the scene, on suspicion of murder and a knife was recovered," the statement went on. “He is currently in custody. We are not looking for anyone else in connection with this incident.”
Onlookers told how the events unfolded. An employee of Jean’s Laundry, near Belfairs Methodist Church in Eastwood Road, said she did not know anything about the situation but had seen emergency service vehicles arrive.
“We just saw all the police and the ambulances turning up, it was probably about half past 12 or just before then,” she told the PA news agency.
“I saw about two or three ambulances and then an unmarked police car and other police cars going past.
“There’s usually people walking past, elderly people walking to the shops. We’ve still got no idea what’s going on, we’re not very busy on a Friday and no one has come in to talk to us about it.”
Anthony Finch, another witness, said he was carrying out electrical work at a nearby house when the incident unfolded.
Speaking before news of the MP’s death broke, Mr Finch told Sky News “what I’ve been told by some people around here is that he is trying to pull through it”.
He described how shortly after arriving at his client’s home “a load of police turned up, armed police, overhead you could see a police helicopter”.
“I saw the suspect come out of the building and get put into a police vehicle and get taken away and then they closed the whole road off and pushed us further back down the road.”
The MP for Southend West in Essex was married with five adult children.
The Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist in 2016 in the run-up to the Brexit referendum.
The Jo Cox Foundation, which was set up in her memory, issued a message that it was "horrified to hear the news of the attack" on Sir David.
"We are thinking of him, his family and loved ones at this distressing time," it said.
Ms Cox's widower Brendan said the stabbing of Sir David was "as cowardly as it gets".
"Attacking our elected representatives is an attack on democracy itself. There is no excuse, no justification," he said.
Another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, was stabbed multiple times during an event in 2010, but recovered from "potentially life-threatening injuries"..
Mr Timms, who is still an MP, said he was "appalled" at the latest attack.
During his long career, Sir David regarded his main interests as “animal welfare and pro-life” issues while his campaigning efforts in the House of Commons in recent years were most closely associated with his Essex coastal town.
Sir David mounted a long-running campaign to make Southend a city. “I am not messing around," he said in 2019. “We have got it from the Prime Minister that Southend is going to become a city – and it will become a city.”
He campaigned against fox-hunting and was a well-known face at the Westminster Dog of the Year competition.
There was no immediate comment from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was leading an away-day for senior ministers in the west of England.
But David Cameron, one of his Tory predecessors in Downing Street, said: "Very alarming and worrying news reports coming from Leigh-on-Sea.
"My thoughts and prayers are with Sir David Amess and his family."
Carrie Johnson, the prime minister’s wife and an outspoken animal rights' campaigner, said Sir David would be remembered as a “true gent”.
“Absolutely devastating news about Sir David Amess,” she tweeted. “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.”
During the pandemic, MPs spent months speaking to constituents on the phone and many had been keen to return to face-to-face meetings in recent months.
Dame Eleanor Laing, Conservative MP for Epping Forest and deputy speaker of the Commons, said: “All elected representatives must be able to go about their work without the fear of physical or verbal attacks.
“What has happened to Sir David Amess in Essex today is unforgivable.”
Conservative MP and former leader of the party Sir Iain Duncan Smith also reacted to the “shocking” attack, and said he was praying for Sir David to pull through.
“My thoughts are with David Amess MP and his family at this awful time,” he tweeted.
“Praying for a full recovery following this appalling, shocking news.
“This angry, violent behaviour cannot be tolerated in politics or any other walk of life.”
Sir Iain told GB News it has never been more crucial for MPs to “be careful” about what they say and how they say it and be mindful not to stir up hate with their words.
He said in the current climate, MPs must show respect for each other and different parties, no matter how heated debates and disagreements get.
“It really is about a culture at the moment where the political discourse has become really quite angry and I think we have to tone this down,” he added.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he was “devastated” to learn about the death of Mr Amess and paid tribute to him as “a great man, a great friend, and a great MP”.
Mr Javid said he had been “killed while fulfilling his democratic role” and added that the UK should “remember him and what he did with his life”.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also posted a tweet remembering her deceased colleague.
“Devastated to hear the terrible news about Sir David Amess MP. He was a lovely, lovely man and a superb parliamentarian,” she tweeted.
Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer called the news "horrific and deeply shocking".