Constituents of murdered MP Sir David Amess have paid tribute to a “wonderful man” who “died doing the thing he loved most” – meeting the people he was elected to represent – at a vigil in his Essex seat.
Father Jeffrey Woolnough, who led the gathering of around 100 people at Saint Peter's Church on Friday evening, close to where Sir David was killed, described the MP as “Mr Southend” and said his death had been a “wicked and tragic act” which had left “many of us ... shaking our heads and wondering why”.
“I am shocked, I am saddened and the world grieves,” he said. “What happened to Sir David today … he died doing the thing he loved, meeting his constituents. He was old-school, very old-school in that respect.”
Pointing to a photo of Sir David at the front of the church, he asked the congregation: “Have you ever known Sir David Amess without that happy smile on his face. Because the greeting he would give you was always that happy smile.
Father Jeffrey Woolnough with a member of the congregation
“He carried that great east London spirit of having no fear and being able to talk to people at the level they're at. Not all politicians, I would say, are good at that.”
As dusk fell local residents began to place flowers at the cordon of the crime scene. A heart-shaped balloon was tied to notes expressing sadness at his death.
Standing outside the church, Emma Mills, an independent councillor in nearby Leigh-on-Sea, clutched a lit candle and looked visibly shaken.
“I live just around the corner from the church,” she said. “I am born and bred here.
“I’m from a different political spectrum to him but you could always have a jovial debate with him. It was just how politics should be. Sir David was very gentlemanly. This is an attack on our democracy.
“We don’t know the reason why this happened yet, but just like [murdered Labour MP] Jo Cox, he was just doing his job. We all feel less safe now. You don’t have to be a councillor to feel less safe.”
Leonor Burden, another of his constituents who attended the vigil, said: “Sir David Amess was absolutely wonderful. He is going to be very much missed. He had time for everyone over the years. Constituents were his main priority.”
Speaking outside the church, councillor Alan Dear, of the local Belfairs ward, added: “I have no words to describe it, I am in total shock. He was an absolutely wonderful man. He dedicated himself to the community, and he supported me a great deal. He was a good friend. He did a lot for the community.”
In what would on any other day be a quiet seaside Essex town, residents were struggling to come to terms with what had happened.
Those living just metres from the church where he was killed expressed their shock and anger at what had taken place.
Claire, a teacher who for 19 years has lived one street away from Belfairs Methodist Church, where Sir David was killed, said: “We are a very close knit neighbourhood. I have always felt totally safe here, it is a really lovely area. And he was a really lovely MP, really approachable. If you had any issues you could go to him.
“I’m just really shocked. He was so involved in the community, he did much more than many other MPs. He always sent a birthday card to local children on their 18th birthday.”
Essex Police have said the investigation into the fatal stabbing is being led by counter-terror officers and a 25-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder.
Chief constable Ben-Julian Harrington said the 69-year-old Southend West MP had been “simply dispensing his duties when his life was horrifically cut short”.