Locals gather to pay respects to longtime British lawmaker
LONDON (AP) — Hundreds of residents in the southeast English coastal resort of Southend gathered Monday to pay their respects to their longtime member of Britain’s Parliament who was fatally stabbed last month while meeting with his constituents.
Following a funeral service in a local church, David Amess’ coffin was taken by a horse-drawn hearse for a procession around Southend, the constituency he had represented since 1997.
People gathered outside Southend’s Civic Center to pay their respects as the hearse, led by four black horses, paused in front of it. Uniformed police officers bowed their heads as the hearse arrived, with members of the public breaking into applause.
Earlier, at the private ecumenical service at St. Mary’s Church, Amess’ friend and Conservative Party colleague, Mark Francois, delivered a eulogy, praising his sense of humor and his hard work on behalf of his constituents.
“Boy, did David Amess honour the contract with his employers — and in his own inimitable style,” Francois said. “Whatever the weaknesses of Parliament, David Amess was the living embodiment of all its strengths.”
Former Conservative lawmaker Ann Widdecombe, a friend of Amess, read a statement on behalf of his family asking people to “set aside hatred” and urging tolerance.
As a tribute to Amess, Southend was granted city status, a campaign that Amess had led for years, using his interventions in the House of Commons to promote the largely symbolic cause.
On Tuesday, a requiem Mass will be held at Westminster Cathedral in London for the devout Catholic, where a message from the Pope will be shared.
Amess, 69, was attacked around midday on Oct. 15 during his weekly constituency meeting in a church in Leigh-on-Sea, a district of Southend around 40 miles (60 kilometers) east of London. The father-of-five suffered multiple stab wounds. Ali Harbi Ali, 25, was charged with murder over Amess’s death, as part of an investigation led by counterterrorism officers. He is due to face trial next year.
Amess’ death caused shock and anxiety across Britain’s political spectrum, just five years after Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist in her small-town constituency.
Amess, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015, died doing what he most cherished — helping out residents in his constituency of Southend West. Under Britain’s parliamentary system, lawmakers have direct links with their local voters, often hosting open meetings, or “surgeries,” on Fridays to listen to their concerns.
Amess was clearly a popular lawmaker, winning 10 out of 10 elections since he was first elected to Parliament in the nearby seat of Basildon in 1983.
Though he never served as a government minister during his long career and had a reputation of being a social conservative on issues such as capital punishment and abortion, he was considered a fixer in Parliament, a lawmaker able to forge alliances across the political divide.
His killing renewed concern about the risks politicians run as they go about their work representing voters. British politicians generally aren’t given police protection when they meet with their constituents — unlike the high-security measures that are in place in Parliament.