Killing of David Amess

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Killing of David Amess
Belfairs Methodist Church cropped.jpg
The site of the attack, pictured in May 2021
Date15 October 2021 (2021-10-15)
Timec. 12:05 pm BST (UTC+01)
LocationBelfairs Methodist Church Hall
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England
Coordinates51°33′35″N 0°39′03″E / 51.5598°N 0.6507°E / 51.5598; 0.6507Coordinates: 51°33′35″N 0°39′03″E / 51.5598°N 0.6507°E / 51.5598; 0.6507
TypeStabbing
DeathsDavid Amess
AccusedAli Harbi Ali
Charges

On 15 October 2021, Sir David Amess, a British Conservative Party politician and Member of Parliament (MP) for Southend West, died after being stabbed multiple times at his constituency surgery at Belfairs Methodist Church Hall in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. He was pronounced dead at the scene at 1:13 pm. Ali Harbi Ali, a 25-year-old British man, was arrested at the scene and was later charged with murder and the preparation of terrorist acts.

Background[edit]

Amess in 2020

Amess was a long-serving politician who entered Parliament in 1983 as MP for Basildon; at the time of his death, he was MP for Southend West. He held no senior positions during his career but was described by journalist Nick Paton Walsh as an "instantly recognizable" member of the Conservative Party, and was knighted for his political and public service in 2015. He was a devout Catholic and a socially conservative politician who opposed abortion, supported capital punishment, and campaigned in favour of Brexit. He was a supporter of animal welfare and was one of the few Conservative MPs to support a ban on fox hunting.[1][2] He also supported a campaign to award city status to Southend-on-Sea, Essex.[3][4]

Following the murder of MP Jo Cox on her way to a constituency surgery in 2016, Amess wrote in his 2020 autobiography that fears of similar attacks "rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians", and that he had faced "nuisance from the odd member of the general public" and insecurity at his own home.[3][4][5] MPs are protected by armed police within Parliament, with security tightened after the 2017 Westminster attack. They are generally not given police protection during surgeries, and they are normally accompanied by only one member of staff.[6][7][8] After Cox's murder, parliamentary spending on MPs' personal security rose from under £200,000 to £4.5 million in two years.[4]

Attack[edit]

On 15 October 2021, Amess held a constituency surgery at the church hall of Belfairs Methodist Church on Eastwood Road North in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, where he was scheduled to meet constituents from 10 am to 1 pm.[9][10][11] He first talked to local residents on the steps of the hall and held a virtual meeting on Zoom with a colleague[12][13] before entering the building around 12:05 pm, accompanied by two female members of staff, to speak with people who had arrived earlier. While inside the church hall, a man armed with a knife emerged from a group of constituents and fatally stabbed Amess multiple times.[14][15][16]

Police and paramedics arrived at the scene within minutes.[9][15][4] The suspect waited inside the church hall, where he was arrested and a police cordon was set up.[17] An air ambulance landed at Belfairs Sports Ground to take Amess to hospital, but the medical team decided that his condition was not stable enough to transport him and so continued to work on him at the scene. His death was confirmed at 1:13 pm.[14][9][15][18][4]

Investigation[edit]

Counter-terrorist police officers were involved in the early stages of the investigation.[19] Essex Police said that a "25-year-old man was quickly arrested after officers arrived at the scene on suspicion of murder and a knife was recovered".[19][20][21] They arrested Ali Harbi Ali, from Kentish Town, North London.[22] In 2014, as a teenager, he was referred to Prevent, the United Kingdom's voluntary programme for those thought to be at risk of radicalisation, from which he was referred on to the Channel programme.[23] He is believed not to have spent long in the programme, and he was not a "subject of interest" to MI5.[24]

At approximately 6:32 pm on 15 October, Essex Police announced that the investigation had been handed over to the Counter Terrorism Command of London's Metropolitan Police Service.[25] On the evening of 16 October, the Metropolitan Police Service confirmed the suspect had been detained under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000, and that magistrates had extended the period the suspect could be held in custody for questioning until 22 October.[26] On 17 October, police identified the stabbing as a terrorist incident potentially motivated by Islamic extremism.[7][27] Police searched three addresses in London over the weekend following the stabbing.[28]

On 21 October, a prosecutor told Westminster Magistrates' Court that Ali considered himself an affiliate of the Islamic State and that he had planned the attack two years in advance. The court also heard that his actions were "connected to the conflict in Syria".[29][30][31][32]

Legal proceedings[edit]

On 21 October 2021, Ali was charged with the murder of Amess and the prior preparation of terrorist acts.[33][22][34] On 22 October, he appeared at London's Old Bailey via video link from Belmarsh, during which he was remanded in custody, with a preliminary hearing set for 5 November and the trial scheduled to begin on 7 March 2022.[22]

On 27 October, an inquest was opened into Amess's death, but it was immediately suspended "pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings." The suspension would be reviewed in April 2022. Coroner's officer Paul Donaghy told the inquest that, the day after Amess's death, a Home Office pathologist carried out a post-mortem examination, which showed that Amess had died from multiple stab wounds to the chest.[35]

Reactions[edit]

After the attack, Prime Minister Boris Johnson returned to London, where flags were lowered to half-mast.[36] Various parliamentary groups, and current and former politicians from across the political spectrum, expressed shock and offered condolences, as did members of the British royal family, international politicians, and relatives of Jo Cox. A vigil for Amess was held in his constituency of Southend West at 6 pm on the day of his death, and another the next day.[11][37][38][39][40]

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, announced that the security of MPs would be reviewed.[37] The safety of MPs during open, public constituency surgeries was debated by politicians.[41][42] Calls to enact a law to crack down on online targeting of MPs and end anonymity were made.[43] The Conservatives suspended political campaigning.[44]

A Catholic priest reported he was not allowed to enter the crime scene to administer the last rites for Amess.[45][46] Following the killing, British Catholic policymakers issued statements affirming Amess's commitment to his faith and lauding his achievements.[47] Labour MP Mike Kane also sought to add an "Amess amendment" to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that would ensure Catholic priests are able to gain access to crime scenes in order to administer the last rites.[48]

On 16 October, Johnson and Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer, accompanied by Hoyle and Home Secretary Priti Patel, laid wreaths at the church hall where Amess was killed.[49] On 18 October, a minute's silence was held in the House of Commons before MPs paid tribute to Amess.[50][51] That evening, a service of remembrance for Amess, attended by MPs, was held at St Margaret's, Westminster.[52] The service included an address by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.[53][54] MPs paid tribute in a book of condolence that was placed in the House of Commons Library, as well as in Westminster Hall and Portcullis House.[55] Tributes were also laid at Belfairs Methodist Church, where Amess was killed.[56]

In the days following Amess's death, a number of MPs, including the Conservative Chris Skidmore and Labour's Charlotte Nichols, voiced their support for a campaign to grant city status to Southend-on-Sea as a way of honouring Amess's memory; he had frequently spoken on the topic in Parliament.[57] During tributes to Amess in the House of Commons on 18 October, Johnson announced that the Queen had agreed to Southend being given city status.[58][59]

As a result of Amess's death, a by-election was triggered to fill his former seat. Major and minor parties announced they would not stand a candidate to oppose the Conservatives, as a sign of respect, following the precedent set in the 2016 Batley and Spen by-election after the murder of Jo Cox.[60]

Following the arrest of Ali, who is London-born of Somali ancestry, Somalis in Britain reported being subject to abuse, harassment, and death threats.[61][62]

A procession and memorial service took place at St Mary's Church, the Church of England parish church in Prittlewell on 22 November. A family statement was read by the former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe. Afterwards his casket processed through the streets in a horse-drawn hearse.[63] The following day a funeral service was held at Westminster Cathedral. Boris Johnson joined Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Sir Keir Starmer, and former prime ministers at the service. A message from Pope Francis was delivered by Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain.[64]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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