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18 October 2021

Sir David Amess’s tragic widow makes emotional visit to church where Tory MP husband was killed

18 October 2021

Sir David Amess’s widow wiped tears from her eyes as she read tributes to the Tory MP outside the church where he was murdered in an attack that has renewed scrutiny of politicians’ safety.

Julia Amess and other family members held each other as they made an emotional visit on Monday morning to Belfairs Methodist Church in Essex, where Sir David was stabbed while meeting constituents.

Before tributes led by Boris Johnson in the Commons got under way, MPs shared shared fresh experiences of receiving death threats as they grappled with the second murder of a colleague in five years.

Labour’s Chris Bryant said a man has been arrested over a threat on his life in the wake of the murder of the MP for Southend West.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab spoke of having received at least three threats on “life and limb” in the past two years, with the latest being of an acid attack.

Wiping tears from her eyes, Sir David’s widow read messages on floral tributes that were piled up outside the church in Leigh-on-Sea.

Family members comforted one another, with one placing an arm around Lady Amess, and they stayed for around 15 minutes during which they spoke to the church’s minister, Clifford Newman.

The six visitors bowed their heads and formed a semi-circle around the churchman as he gave a short private address.

Julia Amess (second left), the widow of Conservative MP Sir David Amess, arrives with friends and family members (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

With Labour’s Jo Cox having been killed by a right-wing extremist outside a West Yorkshire library where she was due to hold a constituency surgery in 2016, Sir David’s murder has led to renewed scrutiny over the security of MPs.

A day after the latest killing, Mr Bryant said he received a death threat after returning from Qatar where he has been investigating the situation faced by refugees from Afghanistan.

“I got back on Saturday and the first message in my inbox was this death threat, pretty clear, so I notified the police and they have taken action,” he told the PA news agency.

Flowers and tributes at the scene near Belfairs Methodist Church (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

He said abuse in British politics has risen in recent years, particularly over Brexit and from anti-vaccine protesters who he said had targeted his Rhondda constituency office in the last year.

A South Wales Police spokeswoman said a 76-year-old man from Bridgend was arrested on suspicion of malicious communications after the threat levelled at the Labour MP.

Mr Raab said colleagues – particularly women – have received “worse abuse” than himself but that he has been the victim of three recent threats that required “intervention”.

“I have had three threats to life and limb over the last two years,” the Deputy Prime Minister told BBC Breakfast.

He told ITV that the most recent was “someone threatening to throw acid over me”.

A police officer arranges flowers and tributes outside Belfairs Methodist Church (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

While recognising the need for security, many MPs have been careful to warn against allowing the attack on Sir David to create detachment from their constituents.

Mr Raab said having plain-clothes police officers on the doors of surgeries with constituents could have a “chilling effect” but he would understand if colleagues decided otherwise.

“We don’t let the terrorists win by creating wedges or walls between us and those who vote us in,” he told Sky News.

Downing Street echoed the sentiment, insisting that the murder “cannot get in the way of democracy” after suggestions MPs could end face-to-face surgeries with constituents.

Though he noted the decision will be up to individual MPs, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We will not be cowed by those who seek to divide us and spread hate and the PM has been struck by the bravery and commitment to serving constituents expressed by many MPs following Sir David’s death.”

The spokesman insisted that “everything possible” will be done to ensure MPs can work safely but would not pre-empt a review commissioned by Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Forensic officers and police at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, where Conservative MP Sir David Amess was fatally stabbed (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Wire)

Brendan Cox, the widower of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, warned supporters from across the political spectrum against a “celebration of political segregation”.

“I think that is absolutely something that we have to challenge. And linked to that we have to stop dehumanising our opponents”, he told Times Radio.

Politicians will share their memories of Sir David in Parliament after a morning of prayers and a minute’s silence at 2.30pm on Monday before MPs and peers attend a service in his honour nearby at St Margaret’s Church.

Sir David’s family have said their “hearts are shattered” by the killing of their “strong and courageous” father.

“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,” they said in a statement.

A 25-year-old man, understood by PA to be Ali Harbi Ali, was arrested at the scene on suspicion of Sir David’s murder and remains in police custody.

He has been detained under Section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and detectives are expected to continue to question him until Friday after a warrant of further detention was granted.

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