Britain's most senior politicians were united in grief yesterday as they laid flowers and paid tribute to Tory MP Sir David Amess after he was killed in a frenzied knife attack.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle left flowers at the church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, where Sir David was stabbed to death on Friday.
They joined an outpouring of emotion from Sir David's heartbroken constituents who voiced their shock at the horrific loss of the hard-working and respected MP.
Sir David, 69, was holding a constituency surgery when an assailant stormed into the Belfairs Methodist Church shortly after midday and stabbed him 17 times. He died at the scene.
A 25-year-old man – named last night as Ali Harbi Ali – was arrested on suspicion of murder when police arrived five minutes later.
Ms Patel yesterday issued a defiant message, saying the UK and its democracy 'cannot be cowed' – as Members of Parliament vowed to carry on holding face-to-face public meetings.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle left flowers at the church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, where Sir David was stabbed to death on Friday
Speaking at Southend police station, Ms Patel said: 'We're all struggling to come to terms with the fact that David Amess has been so cruelly taken away from all of us. He was a man of the people, he was absolutely there for everyone, he was a much loved parliamentarian.
'To me, he was a dear and loyal friend,' she added, paying tribute to his wife, Julia, and their five children. Ms Patel said the security arrangements for MPs will ensure they can 'carry on with their duties as elected democratic members'.
Earlier, the Home Secretary wiped away tears as she joined Mr Johnson, Sir Keir and Sir Lindsay in laying flowers around a tree next to the Methodist church. A note attached to Ms Patel's wreath read: 'You are in our thoughts and hearts. Rest in peace, dear David.'
Mr Johnson left a bouquet of white flowers with a note that read: 'To the memory of Sir David Amess MP, a fine parliamentarian and a much loved colleague and friend.'
The appalling attack was witnessed by Sir David's personal assistant Julie Cushion, 59, and his parliamentary case-worker Rebecca Hayton. Southend councillor John Lamb said: 'The two women are traumatised. Julie was outside the office and heard a scream so she ran in and saw David on the floor. The scream was Rebecca.'
Ms Cushion's friend Stephen Aylan, a former councillor, said: 'She's very, very upset. She's a mess.' PR executive Richard Hillgrove spoke to Mr Amess on a Zoom call just minutes before he was stabbed, according to The Sunday Times.
The pair discussed the Children's Parliament, an event where children are matched with MPs to debate the important issues of the day. Mr Hillgrove, whose 11-year-old daughter Lola had been matched with Mr Amess, says their call ended at 12.02pm, so Mr Amess could host his constituency surgery at the church.
By 12.05pm, the MP had been fatally stabbed and minutes later, Mr Hillgrove saw reports of the attack on the television.
Ms Patel yesterday issued a defiant message, saying the UK and its democracy 'cannot be cowed' – as Members of Parliament vowed to carry on holding face-to-face public meetings
'I didn't even realise it was Sir David at first,' he said. 'I was absolutely horrified, every minute… seemed like an hour, the longer it went, the more concerning it got.'
Sir David's close family were last night believed to be comforting each other at his mother-in-law's home, which is four miles from where he was killed. The MP's second cousins joined other well-wishers in laying floral tributes at the scene of his death, describing him as 'a great man, husband, father and member of our family'.
Cousins Moira and Pat wrote: 'Thinking of your lovely family. Can't believe this has actually happened. Will always love you.'
Constituent Erica Keane, who also laid flowers for Sir David, said: 'My heart is broken for his family and for his children and for Southend, which we love dearly. He was everywhere and he was Southend.'
Last night, more than 100 people gathered at a candle-lit vigil at Belfairs Sports Ground in Leigh-on-Sea and took it in turns to pay tribute to the MP.
Andy Wilkins, 21, the chairman of Southend West Young Conservatives, said: 'I had a meeting with him for half an hour yesterday. We spoke about plans for next year. I left 40 minutes before it happened. I am shocked. Words can't describe how much of an inspiration he was to me as a mentor.'
Last night, more than 100 people gathered at a candle-lit vigil at Belfairs Sports Ground in Leigh-on-Sea and took it in turns to pay tribute to the MP
One woman – who was too upset to give her name – said: 'I work on the children's ward at Southend Hospital. He used to come every Christmas and dress up as Santa.'
Local independent councillor Keith Evans said: 'He was amazingly hard-working. He always rolled his sleeves up and got the job done.'
At an earlier vigil at Southend's Civic Centre, well-wishers released blue balloons. Knighted for public service in 2015, Sir David was a tireless campaigner on issues ranging from Brexit to animal welfare and marine conservation.
Stanley Johnson, the Prime Minister's father and a friend of Sir David, recalled seeing him at a meeting he hosted for the Conservative Animal Welfare Association at the Tory party conference earlier this month. 'He talked about the important links between animal welfare, nature protection and the big challenges that we are facing at the moment.
'Sir David was absolutely fundamental and has been for many years in the Conservative Party and in Parliament in pushing the animal welfare agenda.'
James Duddridge, the MP for Rochford and Southend East – a neighbouring constituency of Sir David's – said: 'He touched so many lives and in many ways was a benchmark MP in terms of his constituency work that we all aspire to.'