Security under spotlight after British MP stabbed to death

AFP News Agency

16th Oct, 2021. 02:36 pm
Security under spotlight after British MP stabbed to death

Security under spotlight after British MP stabbed to death

LEIGH-ON-SEA: The fatal stabbing of British lawmaker David Amess was a terrorist incident, police said Saturday, as MPs pressed for tougher security in the wake of the second killing of a UK politician while meeting constituents in just over five years.

Veteran Conservative MP David Amess, 69, was talking with voters at a church in the small town of Leigh-on-Sea east of London when he was stabbed to death on Friday.

Police said they arrested a 25-year-old suspect and were investigating “a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism”.

Police have said the investigation is in the “very early stages”, though multiple UK media outlets, citing sources, reported that the suspect was believed to be a British national with Somali heritage.

Britain’s politicians were stunned by the highly public attack, which recalled the murder of a pro-EU lawmaker ahead of the Brexit referendum.

Amess, 69, was fatally attacked inside a church as he met local voters in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London
Amess, 69, was fatally attacked inside a church as he met local voters in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London Richard TOWNSHEND UK PARLIAMENT/AFP

In June 2016, Labour MP Jo Cox was killed by a far-right extremist, prompting demands for action against what lawmakers said was “a rising tide” of public abuse and threats against elected representatives.

Cox’s sister Kim Leadbeater, who became an MP in the same constituency this year, said Amess’ death had left her “scared and frightened”.

“This is the risk we are all taking and so many MPs will be scared by this,” she added.

Home Secretary Priti Patel on Friday ordered police across the country to review security arrangements for all 650 MPs.

House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle promised no “knee-jerk reactions” but told Sky News: “We will take further measures if we need to”.

Labour MP Chris Bryant wrote in The Guardian that “sensible measures” were needed both in parliament, which is typically heavily guarded and in constituencies, where MPs often hold meetings in locations such as church halls and high-street offices.

Amess' death follows the killing of Labour MP Jo Cox who was killed by a far-right extremist in June 2016
Amess’ death follows the killing of Labour MP Jo Cox who was killed by a far-right extremist in June 2016 Tolga Akmen AFP

“We don’t want to live in fortresses. But I don’t want to lose another colleague to a violent death,” Bryant added.

– Increasing threats –

MPs and their staff have been attacked before, although it is rare.

But their safety was thrown into sharp focus by Brexit, which stoked deep political divisions and has led to often angry, partisan rhetoric.

Police forensics officers were seen working at the scene of the fatal stabbing
Police forensics officers were seen working at the scene of the fatal stabbing Tolga Akmen AFP

Cox’s killer repeatedly shouted “Britain first” before shooting and stabbing the 41-year-old MP outside her constituency meeting near Leeds, northern England.

A specialist police unit set up to investigate threats against MPs in the aftermath said 678 crimes against lawmakers were reported between 2016 and 2020.

Most (582) were for malicious communications, although other crimes included harassment (46), terrorism (nine), threats (seven), and common assault (three).

Flowers were laid near the scene of the stabbing
Flowers were laid near the scene of the stabbing Tolga Akmen AFP

Separate figures indicated a sharp rise in reports since 2018, including three threats to kill.

Ex-MP Anna Soubry, who quit the Conservative party because of her opposition to Brexit, has spoken of being sent bullets during an intimidation campaign that also targeted her family.

“I do get frightened,” she said at the time.

Amess himself wrote about public harassment and online abuse in his book “Ayes & Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster”, published last year.

Attacks against British MPs
Attacks against British MPs Jonathan WALTER AFP

“These increasing attacks have rather spoilt the great British tradition of the people openly meeting their elected politicians,” he said.

MPs have had to install security cameras and only meet constituents by appointment, he added.

MPs’ staff have also spoken of bearing the brunt of the abuse.

“I would get in and all I would do is go on Facebook and report death threats and delete them,” said Jade Botterill, who worked for senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper from 2013 to 2019.

Brexit had been a turning point and staff working in constituency offices while an MP was in parliament were often on the frontline of daily public anger, she added.