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The fatal stabbing of MP Conservative MP Sir David Amess, who was killed while meeting constituents at a routine public surgery on Friday, has been declared as a terrorist incident.
The 69-year-old suffered multiple injuries in the attack at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea.
Essex Police said a 25-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of murder and that counter terror detectives were investigating his motivations. The investigation is now being led by the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command who declared it a terrorism incident late on Friday night.
As part of the investigation, officers are carrying out searches at two addresses in the London area. The Metropolitan Police added: “A 25-year-old British man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder. He is currently in custody at a police station in Essex”
Police say early investigations revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism.
The investigation is also looking at whether there are mental health issues. Detectives are believed to be going through the suspect’s telephone records and internet history, security officials say.
Sir David, a father-of-five, was the second sitting MP to be killed in five years, following the attack on Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016.
She was murdered by a neo-Nazi outside a constituency surgery in Birstall, West Yorkshire.
Her widower, Brendan Cox, wrote on Twitter: “My thoughts and love are with David’s family. They are all that matter now. This brings everything back.
“The pain, the loss, but also how much love the public gave us following the loss of Jo. I hope we can do the same for David now.”
Mr Cox said attacking MPs was an “attack on democracy itself”, adding: “There is no excuse, no justification. It is as cowardly as it gets.”
The killing sparked renewed questions about the safety of MPs and the Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said measures would need to be re-examined.
Following a meeting between Priti Patel, police and the intelligence services on Friday afternoon, a spokesperson for the home secretary announced that all police forces had been asked to review security arrangements for MPs.
Police were called to the scene shortly after noon on Friday and found Sir David injured. Despite the best efforts of paramedics, he died at the scene.
Investigators were appealing for anyone who saw anything or has CCTV, dashcam or doorbell footage to come forward.
Sir David had advertised the surgery, which is a regular opportunity for constituents to air their views and seek assistance, on his Twitter page on Tuesday, giving the location and contact details to book an appointment.
In a book published last year, Ayes & Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster, Sir David reflected on the impact of the murder of Ms Cox and other MPs.
“We all make ourselves readily available to our constituents and are often dealing with members of the public who have mental health problems, it could happen to any of us,” Sir David wrote.
He said that heightened security concerns had caused MPs to change how they interact with the public, and affected the “great British tradition of people openly meeting their elected politicians” at constituency surgeries.
Sir David said he had experienced “nuisance” from people turning up at his home in the past, and received frequent abuse on social media.
He called for the law to be changed so that abusive commenters could be identified, saying that he was frustrated that “these ignorant cowards are allowed to get away with appalling behaviour”.
Tributes poured in from across the political spectrum on Friday for Sir David, who was one of parliament’s longest-serving MPs.
The prime minister called him “one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics” and praised “almost 40 years of continuous service to the people of Essex and the whole of the United Kingdom”.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, said Sir David “served the people of Southend with endless passion, energy and integrity”.
“It represents a senseless attack on democracy itself,” she added. “Questions are rightly being asked about the safety of our country's elected representatives and I will provide updates in due course.”
The Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called it a “dark and shocking day” and praised Sir David’s public service.
“The whole country will feel it acutely, perhaps the more so because we have, heartbreakingly, been here before,” he added.
“Let us come together in response to these horrendous events. We will show once more that violence, intimidation and threats to our democracy will never prevail over the tireless commitment of public servants simply doing their jobs.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said it was “a truly terrible day for British politics but most importantly of all our prayers are with all the people who loved David”.
Sir David was first elected to parliament to represent Basildon in 1983, and then stood for election in Southend West in 1997.
He was the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary British-Qatar Group, and recently met the country's emir in Doha.
On his website, he listed his main interests as “animal welfare and pro-life issues”. Sir David is survived by his wife and five children.
A vigil was held at St Peter’s Church in Leigh-on-Sea at 6pm on Friday night, where Father Jeffrey Woolnough gave thanks for the MP’s life.
The church fell silent as Sir David was remembered by his constituents, and the priest said: “We don’t have the words tonight. Dear Sir David, rest well.”
Essex Police said anyone with information should contact the force quoting incident 445 of 15 October.