David Amess’s family ‘can’t believe’ his murder as locals remember ‘an MP with a heart’

Attack in place of sanctuary is ‘reprehensible’ says reverend as mosques condemn ‘indefensible atrocity’

Holly Bancroft
in Southend
Saturday 16 October 2021 22:18
Hundreds of people attended a candlelit vigil in memory of David Amess
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Relatives of Sir David Amess expressed bewilderment and shock at his killing as hundreds of well-wishers lit candles and left tributes at the scene of the attack in Southend, Essex, on Saturday.

Two cousins laid flowers outside the church where he was stabbed multiple times during a meeting with constituents.

“Can’t believe this has actually happened,” read an attached card. “RIP David. Thinking of your lovely family. We will always love you. Cousins Moira and Pat.”

Paramedics tried to save the Conservative MP’s life for more than an hour on the floor of Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea.

The suspect, a 25-year-old man who made no attempt to flee, was arrested on suspicion of murder.

Well-wishers light candles at Belfairs Recreation Ground in Leigh-on-Sea, Southend on Saturday

James Duddridge, MP for neighbouring Rochford and Southend East, echoed the disbelief as he remembered his colleague at a vigil outside the town’s Civic Centre on Saturday afternoon.

“We are still totally shell-shocked and expect him to be back in the House of Commons on Monday,” he told The Independent.

Making Southend a city – something for which Sir David had campaigned for many years – would be a fitting way to remember his service to the community, Mr Duddridge said.

“We need to carry on his campaigns and his spirit, energy and enthusiasm. He would take an issue and scream loudly about it for the people without a voice.

“Making Southend a city is something that jumps to everyone’s minds as being very fitting and to do it in David’s honour.”

Balloons are released outside the Civic Centre in Southend-on-Sea on Saturday

Flowers and other tributes were laid for Sir David at the police cordon on Eastwood Road North, just yards from the scene.

Earlier, prime minister Boris Johnson, Labour leader Keir Starmer and home secretary Priti Patel also laid bouquets.

Reverend Clifford Newman, of Belfairs Methodist Church, was only two weeks into his role when the attack happened. He told The Independent: “Sir David loved to go out into the community and to speak to people and he used the local church to meet constituents.

“I thought it was a good idea, because there’s space and, supposedly, it’s a safe haven. The fact that the attacker came into what is supposed to be a sanctuary, and to target a man who is helping the community, is reprehensible.

“I hope to God that it was not in God’s name.”

Among those at the scene on Saturday were religious leaders from Southend mosques, who laid flowers and said the MP had been an “upstanding friend to our Muslim community” including attending the opening of the town’s first Muslim Scout group.

The Essex Jamme Masjid website, on behalf of “all Southend mosques”, said the murder was “an indefensible atrocity, committed on the grounds of a place of worship and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

“This act was committed in the name of blind hatred, and we look forward to the perpetrator being brought to justice.”

Connie Fawcett, a local resident, knew Sir David from his visits to local charity events and school fairs. She described him as a “very lovely man” and someone who would “always help everybody as best he could”.

Leaders from Southend mosques lay flowers near Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea on Saturday

Local councillor Alex Bright said everyone had an anecdote about how the MP had helped them.

“Nothing was too small or insignificant for him,” he said, “He made everyone feel important. He was on everybody’s level.”

Cllr Bright said he believed Sir David had two staff members with him when he was fatally attacked.

“Sometimes I do feel unsafe in my work as a councillor,” he said. “It’s common practice that our home addresses are published on council websites. I think that’s got to change. I had to take mine down a few years ago after an incident.

“I agree that politicians need to be accountable to the public and I agree that we should not be cowed, but that said, I think we do need to revise some basic security measures.”

Frances Neil, who knew Sir David for 20 years as a local campaigner, said he had been “an MP with a heart. If you were in Homebase and you saw him he would always chat to you, or if you were shopping,” she said. “He was a people person.”

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