David Amess: Tributes paid to ‘true gent’ by politicians
The family of Sir David Amess have said their hearts are shattered by the horrific event that took place last Friday. They have called on people to “set aside hatred and work towards togetherness”. The Conservative MP was stabbed multiple times during a meeting with his constituents in Essex.
A 25-year-old man is currently being held under the Terrorism Act.
In a statement, his family said they were trying to understand “why this awful thing has occurred… nobody should die in that way. Nobody”.
Sir David was 69, and was married with four daughters and a son.
His death has sparked a debate on the safety of MPs in public life, and whether they should be provided with police protection during surgeries, with arguments for metal detectors and pat downs before members of the public see their MP having been put forward.
The debate isn’t new, however.
When Labour MP Jo Cox was fatally shot and stabbed just a week before the Brexit vote, similar fears and concerns were raised.
David Amess: MPs has raised concerns more than 20 years ago after the death of Andrew Pennington
Tributes: Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson arrive at the scene to pay their tributes to Sir David
Even 20 years ago MPs were calling for better security when out and about, and potentially saying goodbye to the traditional “open door policy” characteristic of Britain’s democracy.
In 2000, a Liberal Democrat MP and councillor were attacked at a surgery in Cheltenham by a man with a sword.
Andrew Pennington, a county councillor, had at least six sword wounds pierce through his body, with the attack later being described as having “all the hallmarks of a ceremonial or sacrificial killing”.
His birthday was just four days later.
Nigel Jones, the region’s Lib Dem MP, was also injured in the attack but got away — something that Sir David later went on to write in his warning about security threats to politicians last November.
Such was the brutality of the murder that MPs at the time called on the “alarming” trend of politicians being targeted to be dealt with.
Dan Norris, then a Labour MP who has since become Mayor of the West of England, had carried out extensive research on the levels of violence faced by social workers.
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Andrew Pennington: The Lib Dem councillor was fatally stabbed six times with a sword at a surgery
He believed that members of Parliament are threatened on a regular basis — something that appears to ring true of today.
In a 2000 report by the BBC titled, ‘Attack prompts MPs to rethink security’, he said: “It’s a very alarming case but I don’t think it’s surprising.
“This was bound to happen I’m afraid.
“While it’s a very severe example, I suspect a lot of MPs endure threats and intimidation from their constituents and no doubt this is what will be coming to light over the coming weeks and months.
“Like all forms of violence, attacks on MPs are probably under-reported.
“If any research were to be done it would find they are facing much more violence than anyone suspects, but none of them have said anything about it because they all felt they were the victims of isolated incidents.”
He said most MPs’ security arrangements were not up to scratch: “I’m not sure they do it terribly well at the moment.
“Other professions who have similar roles where they have to deal with the public have developed practical strategies to make sure that the risks are minimised.
“If a constituent has shown they can be violent I use a baby monitor in the surgery room and make sure someone is listening in from next door.
“You have to be sure to respect people’s confidentiality, so that measure is only taken if someone has a history of violence.
“I always make sure I sit near the door in the surgery room so that if the constituent gets too angry I can get out.
“But the bottom line is you can’t completely remove the risk if you’re working with the public. It’s not like a bank, for example, where you can be behind a screen.”
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Cheltenham: Nigel Jones MP and Pennington were carrying out their weekly surgery when it happened
Robert Ashman: After the attack with a blanket over his head, he was found guilty of murder in 2014
Mr Norris claimed more and more MPs were keeping the location of their constituency offices secret to protect their staff and themselves from attack, but added that they, at the time, still did not receive any formal advice on security unless they themselves approached the police force.
Security tightened considerably after the murder of Ms Cox in 2016.
The centralisation of complaints of abuse against MPs took place, but there remains a significant variation among MPs about how they conduct their constituency business and little arrangement on how to make life safer now.
One former minister told The Guardian how they have altered their surgeries in the wake of the increased violence: “All my surgeries are by appointment and we don’t announce location and time in advance.
“I suspect it will have to be this way.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel has asked for all police forces to review security arrangements for MPs “with immediate effect” following Sir David’s death.
She has, however, vowed to keep MPs’ surgeries open.
She said: “We are open to surgeries, doing our job. We will continue to do that.
“David was a dear friend of mine and a loyal friend and colleague, a man of the people.
“He was killed serving his own constituents and constituency members.
“We will carry on, we live in an open society, a democracy.
“We cannot be cowed by any individual or any motivation… to stop us from functioning, to serve our elected democracy.”
Nigel Jones: The politician was left injured but escaped any serious wounds
Last November, Sir David wrote of how MPs had received security advice about holding surgeries, and how attacks had “split the great British tradition” of voters meeting politicians.
In, ‘Ayes & Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster’, he wrote about Ms Cox’s murder, and also noted the sword attack on Mr Jones and Mr Pennington.
He revealed that he had himself experienced “nuisance from the odd member of the general public” at his property.
Writing about the attack on Mr Jones, he wrote: “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.”
Jo Cox: Security tightened following the death of Cox but questions still remain
On security, he said: “We regularly check our locks and many others have CCTV cameras installed but probably the most significant change has been with constituency surgeries.
“The British tradition has always been that Members of Parliament regularly make themselves available for constituents to meet them face to face at their surgeries.
“Now advice has been given to be more careful when accepting appointments.
“We are advised to never see people alone, we must be extra careful when opening post and we must ensure that our offices are properly safe and secure.
“In short, these increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians.”