It was as sudden as it was savage. A man pulled out a knife and ‘just began stabbing’ David Amess.
The ferocious attack left the 69-year-old veteran Conservative MP gasping for life on the floor of the church hall.
He was so grievously injured by ‘more than a dozen’ stab wounds that medical staff battling to save him could not stabilise him enough to take him to hospital. After two desperate hours, a helicopter air ambulance which had landed in a nearby field took off again, empty.
Sir David was a committed constituency MP who had devoted his life to meeting local residents and trying to help with their problems.
When he arrived for his regular surgery at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, shortly before midday, several were waiting to see him.
John Lamb, a Conservative councillor who rushed to the church when he heard what had happened, said: ‘He was doing a surgery in the Methodist church here to speak to local people and pick up on their problems.
MP Sir David Amess was murdered on Friday at Belfairs Methodist Church, his constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. (He is pictured at the venue earlier this month)
‘I’m told that when he went in for his surgery there were people waiting to see him, and one of them literally got a knife out and just began stabbing him.
‘He was with a female member of staff from his constituency office and another female member of staff from his parliamentary office.’
Speaking outside the church, the shocked councillor said: ‘It has been two hours since it happened, and they are still working on him – he hasn’t been taken to hospital yet.
‘He’s a family man, he’s got four daughters and a son.’
Another witness said the MP had been ‘stabbed quite a few times’, while Sky News reported there were ‘more than a dozen’ knife wounds.
A local Tory lowers the flag to half mast. Sir David was a committed constituency MP who had devoted his life to meeting local residents and trying to help with their problems
Sir David was meant to have been giving a speech at a dinner for the local Conservative association last night in nearby Rochford. Instead, floral tributes were being laid and more than 100 locals attended a vigil. (Above, a member of the public places flowers near the scene)
Officers from Essex Police were the first to arrive, within five minutes, followed moments later by an armed response unit. They found the 25-year-old suspect still inside the church hall, and also recovered a knife. The alleged killer was led out to a police van. (A tribute, one of the cards accompanying a floral tribute)
The brutal assault on Sir David was over in seconds, but the knifeman does not appear to have been in a hurry to leave the murder scene.
Priti Patel reviews security
The Home Secretary has ordered police forces to urgently review security arrangements for MPs
Pritis Patel has ordered all police forces to review security arrangements for MPs urgently.
The Home Secretary chaired a meeting of police and security and intelligence agencies, believed to include MI5.
Tory MP Pauline Latham said: ‘We cannot be totally protected. There will always be nutcases.’
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘We must be available. It is the most critical bit of what makes the British parliamentary system one of the most accessible in the world.’
Former Tory chairman Sir Eric Pickles said: ‘If we close up shop and disappear behind a security bubble, it’s democracy that’ll be a lesser thing.’
MPs can get advice from security experts in Parliament and have alarm systems, shutters, CCTV and personal alarms. For specific threats, MPs can seek help from the police.
Terrified members of the public dialled 999. Lee Jordison, 40, who works in nearby Hicks butchers, said: ‘It is very shocking. I’ve worked up here and lived up here all my life, and never seen anything like this – it’s terrible.’
Officers from Essex Police were the first to arrive, within five minutes, followed moments later by an armed response unit.
They found the 25-year-old suspect still inside the church hall, and also recovered a knife. The alleged killer was led out to a police van.
Anthony Finch, 38, an electrician, said: ‘We arrived to do some work on the adjacent building. I saw an upset lady on the phone saying ‘You need to arrive quickly – he’s still in the building’.
‘I went into the client’s house, and when I came back out there were loads of armed police, and overhead there was an air ambulance as well as a police helicopter.
‘I saw the suspect get put into a police van, get taken away and then they cordoned the whole road, and pushed us all down the road.
‘What we then heard was that it was David Amess. He’s very well thought of in our area – he fights for good causes and sticks up for people around here.’
As word spread, a Roman Catholic priest, Father Jeffrey Woolnough, arrived at the police cordon stretching across tree-lined Eastwood Road North, offering to administer the last rites to the devoutly Catholic MP.
He said: ‘The officers said that because it was a crime scene, and also the nature of the scene, it just wasn’t possible.’
Conservative councillor David Garston described Sir David as ‘probably one of the best constituency MPs in the country’, and said: ‘Because he was so accessible, and because he was everywhere, he obviously left himself vulnerable and didn’t think twice about it.
‘You couldn’t get very far [with him] because he’d stop every hundred yards to talk to somebody.’
Another local councillor, James Courtenay, said that surgeries were the MP’s passion and a scheduled hour-long session with constituents often stretched to four or five hours.
Sir David was meant to have been giving a speech at a dinner for the local Conservative association last night in nearby Rochford.
Instead, floral tributes were being laid and more than 100 locals attended a vigil. One card left on flowers at the scene read simply: ‘Sir David Amess – RIP –such a gentleman.’
Ben-Julian Harrington, Essex Police’s chief constable, said that officers and paramedics had ‘worked extremely hard to save Sir David’.
A 25-year-old man is in custody on suspicion of murder after the Conservative MP was stabbed to death this afternoon
Emergency services at the scene near the Belfairs Methodist Church in Eastwood Road North on Friday
‘The advice is not to see constituents on our own’: In his own prophetic words, what Sir David wrote after Jo Cox murder
In a book published last year, Sir David described how he and other MPs altered the way they interacted with the public – particularly in constituency surgeries – after the murder of their colleague Jo Cox in 2016. Below is an extract from the book Ayes and Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster
The murder of Cox was still totally unexpected. She had been an MP for a very short time, having been elected in May 2015. She was approaching the library where her constituency surgery was to be held, when she was attacked and killed in the most barbaric fashion imaginable.
This event took place during the 2016 EU Referendum Campaign and had a galvanising effect on the campaign, the general public and Members themselves. My colleague Mark Francois alerted me to the attack, at which time he was unaware that Jo had actually died.
Sir David wrote in a book published last year: ‘The murder of [Jo] Cox [pictured] was still totally unexpected. She had been an MP for a very short time, having been elected in May 2015. She was approaching the library where her constituency surgery was to be held, when she was attacked and killed in the most barbaric fashion imaginable’
She was a young woman with a family going about her duties as we all do, completely unaware of the threat that she faced. While it is often said that good can come out of someone’s death, it is difficult to see what good can come from this senseless murder. Nevertheless, it is to be commended that the Jo Cox Foundation has been established to combat loneliness.
There can be no doubt that as a result of these heightened security concerns most Members have modified or changed the way they interact with the general public. The Commons authorities have taken threats very seriously and have issued guidance for the safety and security of not only Members, but their families. This includes security in their own home.
I myself have over the years experienced nuisance from the odd member of the general public at my own property. We regularly check our locks and many others have CCTV cameras installed but probably the most significant change has been with constituency surgeries.
The British tradition has always been that Members of Parliament regularly make themselves available for constituents to meet them face to face at their surgeries. Now advice has been given to be more careful when accepting appointments.
We are advised to never meet people alone, we must be extra careful when opening post and we must ensure that our offices are properly safe and secure. In short these increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians.