Family of Sir David Amess call for unity after 'cruel and violent' death

Relatives urge people to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all

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The family of the British Conservative MP Sir David Amess have urged people to be tolerant and “set aside hatred” as counterterrorism officers investigate his killing.

They said they were “absolutely broken” after he was stabbed while meeting constituents at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, at one of his regular surgeries in his Southend West constituency on Friday.

Amess, a married father of five, died at the scene.

“Strong and courageous is an appropriate way to describe David," his family said in a statement released by the London's Metropolitan Police. "He was a patriot and a man of peace.

“So we ask people to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all. This is the only way forward. Set aside hatred and work towards togetherness.

“Whatever one’s race, religious or political beliefs, be tolerant and try to understand.

“As a family, we are trying to understand why this awful thing has occurred. Nobody should die in that way. Nobody.”

The Amess family said they had been given "strength" by the many tributes which have flooded in from parliamentarians across the political spectrum and constituents.

“The family would like to thank everyone for the wonderful, wonderful tributes paid to David following his cruel and violent death. It truly has brought us so much comfort,” they said.

“The support shown by friends, constituents and the general public alike has been so overwhelming.”

The MP's widow Julia Amess visited Belfairs Methodist Church on Monday morning accompanied by family members. She was seen wiping tears from her eyes as she read messages on floral tributes piled outside the building.

One relative placed a protective arm around the mother-of-five during the 15-minute stay.

Reverend Clifford Newman, leader of the congregation at the Methodist church, was seen hugging Mrs Amess. The group of six later bowed their heads and formed a semi-circle around the churchman as he gave a short private address.

A man identified as Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder and remains in police custody.

He has been detained under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and a warrant of further detention, which allows detectives to hold him until Friday, was granted at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Saturday.

A candle and a photo of MP Sir David Amess at a vigil at St Michael’s and All Angels church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. The politician was stabbed to death at a constituency surgery in the town. PA

The Metropolitan Police earlier said its investigation had “revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism”.

The Home Office would not comment on reports that the suspect had the same details as a man earlier referred to Prevent, the government’s anti-terrorism scheme.

Arrest after threat to Welsh MP

Meanwhile, Labour MP Chris Bryant said an arrest has been made over a death threat sent to him after the killing of Amess.

He said the threat was made in an email which he opened on Sunday before immediately notifying police.

Sir Mark Rowley, the former head of Britain’s anti-terror policing, has said his recommendations to the government after a review of the country’s counterterrorism strategy has yet to produce a response.

The review he co-authored with the Commission for Countering Terrorism eight months ago found that new laws were needed to stop hateful groups from “operating with impunity”.

It said extremists were exploiting gaps between existing hate crime and terrorism legislation, and that terrorists, including the London Bridge attack ringleader, could have been arrested earlier had tighter laws been in place.

Mr Rowley told The Independent that ministers have not responded to the review. “I have had no feedback from the Home Office on their plans in relation to our report on the absence of a coherent legal framework to tackle hateful extremism,” he said.

“It remains legal in some circumstances intentionally to stir up race or religious hatred or to glorify terrorism. These are dangerous loopholes highlighted in our report that continue to be exploited by hateful extremists.”

Politicians to pay tribute to Amess

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to make a statement on the killing when MPs gather in the House of Commons on Monday. There will be a morning of prayers before a minute's silence is held in memory of Amess.

The fatal stabbing of the politician has prompted calls for MPs' security to be tightened and a wider debate on the safety of face-to-face meetings between constituents and their political representatives.

Some people have said plainclothes officers should accompany MPs to surgeries while others have suggested metal detectors should be installed at venues to screen people before they are allowed to meet their MP.

During Covid-19 lockdowns, MPs were forced to hold constituency surgeries online but many were keen to return to the normal day-to-day workings of the job when restrictions were lifted.

Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Dominic Raab said any changes would depend on MPs and what makes them most comfortable.

He said MPs needed to take their safety seriously but new measures should not “add to that sense of foreboding” that constituents may feel when they turn up to meet their elected representative.

He also said the barrage of hateful comments being directed at politicians must stop.

“The elephant in the room with this is the amount of online hate that we all get. It’s out of control,” he told Sky News.

“I’m a free speech man, I want to defend that to my dying days but at the same time I think the amount of abuse and the vilification directed at MPs and in particular female MPs, I think has got to stop."

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he had received “three threats to life or limb” that have required an intervention from police in the past two years.

Mr Raab, who was demoted from his role of foreign secretary in the Cabinet reshuffle in September, said he felt “more at risk from those who are either misguided or mentally unwell” than an organised terrorist group.

Speaking to Sky News on Monday morning, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, called the previous few days “one of the darkest weekends politics has had”.

He said Amess was a “happy guy, always chatty” who “lit a room up” with his smile and energy.

He said 38 years after being elected an MP, Amess still had the enthusiasm of a newly elected politician and was “as fresh as the day he started”.

“And, of course, his faith meant a lot to him as well, you know, he was a great Christian. But the thing is with David, he had appeal and time for everybody," Mr Hoyle said.

He said it was “awful” that a Catholic priest had not been allowed to give Amess the last rites before he died, after being prevented from entering the church by police officers guarding the crime scene.

Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said “with a heavy heart” he believes increased security for MPs, including plainclothes police officers at surgeries, should be considered after the “heinous” killing of Amess.

Homes searched in investigation into Amess's killing

Officers have searched addresses in London thought to be linked to the counterterrorism investigation.

Two police constables guarded a property in Lady Somerset Road, Kentish Town, north London, throughout Saturday and into Sunday as officers set up a forensics tent and later carried out several large bags.

Neighbours said officers had searched a home in Croydon, south London, where the suspect was believed to have lived several years earlier.

One neighbour said the Lady Somerset Road property was a Victorian terraced house that had been split into a private flat and a council-owned maisonette.

She said she believed the officers were searching the maisonette.

“We knew the family quite well as superficial neighbours," she told the Press Association. "Very nice family, the mum was very, very nice.

“They’d say hello in the street, that kind of thing. A mother lives there with several boys. My husband believes there’s three boys. The youngest has got to be in his 20s. I never saw a father there.

“They’ve been here for years. We’ve lived here for 20 years and they’ve been here longer than us.”

She said the family had not been seen in the area for a while.

“I’m completely, utterly shocked and surprised that police have started searches here,” she said. “You just don’t expect it to be next door. This is a lovely road, it’s charming.”

Neighbours also described seeing plainclothes and uniformed officers arriving at a house in Cranmer Road, Croydon, on Friday and carrying out searches until Saturday.

A third address in Bounds Green Road, North London, was also visited by police on Sunday.

“When I came back on the Friday, police were everywhere," a neighbour in Cranmer Road said. "They arrived about 2.30pm and stayed until late last night.

“They were going in and out, in and out, taking things from the house in sealed bags. It was uniformed police and ones in suits, too.

“The family are a really nice family, really quiet, very kind. They’ve lived there for years. We’ve been here about 16 years and they were here longer than us.

“A boy who used lived there has the same name as the man that was arrested. He moved out about three, four years ago.

“A woman lives there now with a boy and two girls. She did have a husband who lived with her but he left years ago. She told me that he went back to Somalia a long time ago.

“They’ve always kept themselves to themselves, never really interacted with anyone apart from, I think, one of their other neighbours.

“They’ve been helping him with his medication and food shopping during lockdown. They’re just really nice people.”

On Sunday, Home Secretary Priti Patel said police protection for MPs at constituency meetings is among the options being considered after the killing, which came little more than five years after the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, Jo Cox, was murdered on her way to a constituency meeting.

Ms Patel said a “whole spectrum” of measures was being considered to address safety concerns after the killing and politicians were being offered “immediate” security changes.

MPs could be asked to share their whereabouts at all times with police, she said.

Ms Patel said security services were watching for people who might have become radicalised online during coronavirus lockdowns and posed the threat of a “lone wolf” attack.

“Threats are always there and if you listen to my colleagues, even the director general of MI5 [Britain's security service], he has spoken publicly about lone actors," she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

Brendan Cox, husband of Jo Cox, said hearing about the killing on Friday brought him back to his own experience of June 2016.

On Monday, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the “power of the public” gave his family a sense of solidarity after his wife’s murder and he also believes the Amess family have “clearly been comforted by that public reaction”.

“Having gone through something very similar and knowing those first moments, those moments where you hear about the attack but hope that it will be OK through to those moments where you are told and when you have to tell other people, just the sadness and the sorry of that for his family,” he said.

Parishioners light candles at the end of a special service in honour of Sir David Amess at St Michael's and All Angels Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex.  (Photo by Adrian DENNIS  /  AFP)

Conservative MP Dame Eleanor Laing, Deputy of the Speaker of the House of Commons, told the radio programme “we must carry on” but every MP should have the option of increased security.

She said it would not be possible for MPs to have a protection officer accompany them all day, every day while they are running errands in their constituency. “Every time I queue for fish and chips I’m still the member of Parliament,” she said.

On Sunday evening, dozens of mourners attended a special church service in memory of Amess.

Residents gathered at St Michael’s and All Angels church, opposite the late Southend West MP’s constituency office in Leigh-on-Sea, to pay their respects and share their memories.

Mark Churchward, who spoke on behalf of Southend church leaders, described Amess, a devout Catholic, as “a man of honour, a man of compassion and a man of faith”, who dealt with everyone respectfully.

The House of Commons has cleared its timetable for Monday to dedicate most of the afternoon to paying tribute to Amess.

At least two hours will be set aside for politicians to share their memories of the man, who had been an MP for almost 40 years, and say prayers.

The Commons will meet at 2.30pm and, before the start of business, there will be specially written prayers led by the Speaker’s chaplain Tricia Hillas followed by a minute’s silence.

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle will then make a statement setting out arrangements for the day.

After Home Office questions have finished, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will move a motion for adjournment, which will enable parliamentarians to open the tributes session, which is expected to last until 5.30pm.

The rest of the timetable will be rescheduled, with Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg to make a business announcement later in the week.

After tributes have concluded in the chamber, there will be a procession led by the Speaker to a service of prayer and remembrance for Amess in St Margaret’s Church, next to Westminster Abbey, starting at 6pm.

Due to limited space, the event will be open only to MPs and peers.

In addition to the service, the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, under the historic Westminster Hall, will be open to all staff for private prayer in the morning, with communal prayers to be led by Rev Hillas and Roman Catholic duty chaplain Canon Pat Browne at intervals during the afternoon.

A book of condolence will be placed in the House of Commons Library for members to sign, with other books in Westminster Hall and in Portcullis House for all parliamentary staff to record their tributes.

Updated: October 18, 2021, 12:52 PM