Outpouring of sorrow from Lancashire MPs at death of Sir David Amess
Lancashire MPs have spoken of their grief following the death of Sir David Amess and their determination to carry on serving the public.
Speaking today, just hours before Parliament was due to pay tribute to the Southend West MP, they were united in remembering a kind and helpful MP who had also been a friend to MPs across the political divide.
Sir David was stabbed to death on Friday as he held a constituency surgery.
A minute's silence was held in Parliament this afternoon and prayers said before Prime Minister Boris Johnson read out tributes in the House of Commons and announced that as a tribute to Sir David Southend would indeed be given city status. A service at St Margaret's Church, next to Parliament, at which the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby was due to give an address, was to follow.
The Speaker of the Commons Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle has announced a review into security arrangements and he urged MPs to do everything they can to protect themselves, their families, their staff and constituents.
He said today: "Sir David Amess was one of the kindest, most big-hearted and generous MPs in the House of Commons, so the entire parliamentary community is in shock and mourning at the despicable way he died. He was a family man who was never happier than when he was chatting about his wife and five children, his love of animals, and of course his constituency of Southend West, which following his relentless campaign, really should become a city.
"His warmth and ready wit drew people to him, whether it be a Minister or member of staff – he would always find a connection or a cheeky word to say to make them laugh. So, for him to be murdered doing the bit of the job he loved the most – meeting his constituents – is horrendous and brings into question the vulnerability of MPs at their regular surgeries. "
‘He continued: "After the equally shocking murder of our colleague Jo Cox, five years ago, the House of Commons Security Department offered parliamentarians a suite of new security measures to make their homes and offices more secure. Unfortunately, time and the pandemic, which meant face-to-face meetings were not possible – has meant people have forgotten that there is help available to them. So, my strong advice again is please do everything you can to protect yourselves, your families, your staff and constituents.’
Meanwhile Ribble Valley MP and Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans said "Today is going to be a testing day for all. All I can think of is David's smiling face - why anyone would want to do what they did is just unfathomable. I've been an MP for almost 30 years and I've known Sir David for all that period and for longer. he was a gentle, sweet ,caring man. Someone I'm proud to call a friend. He died in the service of his constituents whom he loved."
Regarding security arrangements for MPs and their staff and constituents he said: "We always keep security under review. The Speaker is having his own investigation and review of security - we'll wait for the recommendations from that.
"I think in any changes we make we must not diminish the cotnact we have with our constituents - it's integral to the work we do. We must be more aware of the dangers around us but we must not diminish our role as MPs,"
He recalled that when first elected in 1992 he was advised to check under his car for explosives because the IRA were then active:"It's something that goes with the job of being an MP. We have to be aware, Clearly the brutal and senseless killing of Sir David heightens the threat people in public (life) face."
The MP also called for the abuses of social media to be reviewed with politicians facing abuse on line: "The nastiness of social media is something. People think they can say anything they like - that's not the case."
He said there should be no place for such comments in a decent life, noting he had seen a poster with a special message which has particular resonance today: "In a world where we can be anything, be kind - and that's basically it. That should be people's default."
Preston MP Mark Hendrick said: "David Amess was a lovely man, I knew him for many years, he's always been extremely friendly and courteous. I got on with him very well. He was not a person anyone could dislike. He was one of the decent people in this place. I think everyone from whatever party will be extremely sad and upset he's gone."
He added there was a sense of déjà vu which brought back all the discussions following the murder of the Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox in June 2016, but stressed re.security: "It's not the public's business what security measures are and what needs to be done."
West Lancashire MP Rosie Cooper who was herself the subject of a death threat and murder plot a few years ago has also paid tribute to Sir David saying: “My thoughts and prayers are with David, his wife and children at this very sad time. Why anyone would want to end the life of another is beyond my understanding. A barbaric senseless act. I will miss David’s lovely smile, contagious sense of fun and our friendship. He was very kind to me as he was unfailingly to everyone, always ready with a kind word and a helping hand whoever you were. God Bless him and his family.”
Neo-Nazi Jack Renshaw, 23, who was originally from Skelmersdale had plotted to murder Rosie Cooper and also threatened to kill a police officer and was given a life sentence at the Old Bailey in 2019. After the sentencing the West Lancashire MP said: “My deepest wish is that this case is the last occasion when any public servant, any politician, has their life threatened for simply doing their job."
South Ribble MP Katherine Fletcher said: "In Parliament today, MPs from all parties came together to remember to the life and work of the late David Amess. It has been an emotional day for all of us. My thoughts and deepest sympathies are with his family as they grieve for a devoted husband and father.
"After listening to the tributes paid to David, I am as determined as ever to preserve the relationship between local residents and their MP. I will be carefully assessing any new advice that is issued to MPs regarding security, to ensure that it is implemented in such a way as to keep us all safe, but not hamper democratic engagement."
On Twitter Morecambe and Lunesdale David Morris MP had paid tribute over the weekend to "a great friend and one of the kindest people you will ever meet". He wrote : "Absolutely devastated by the death of Sir David Amess. Sir David was a great friend and one of the kindest people you will ever meet. "He was a fantastic parliamentarian and totally dedicated to his constituents. I will dearly miss his friendship and advice and my thoughts and prayers are with his family who he was devoted to."
Lancashire police officers are contacting all the county's MPs to discuss ongoing security arrangements. A spokesperson for Lancashire Constabulary said: "As in every force across the UK, Lancashire Constabulary officers have, with immediate effect, begun reaching out to Lancashire MPs,as part of Operation Bridger. ... We continue to encourage MPs to immediately report any security concerns to their local police force in order to keep themselves, their staff, families, and members of the public attending surgeries safe. Forces review MP security advice frequently, based on an assessment of changing threats and risk. In terms of social media, we would always encourage any threatening comments to be reported to police."
Operation Bridger was set up in 2015 and provides tactical options for protective physical security for Members in their homes and constituencies and is managed by the Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation Team (PLaIT). The PLaIT was formed in September 2016 by Metropolitan Police Service following the murder of MP Jo Cox and forms part of the Met's Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command.
* For the tribute from Lancashire based peer Lord David Alton, a long standing friend of Sir David, who had worked with him on several campaigns, see here