As It Happens·Q&A

Slain U.K. MP David Amess remembered as a 'kind, gentle man' with a zest for life

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone from any political party with a bad word to say about David Amess, says his friend and colleague Pauline Latham.

Amess was fatally stabbed on Friday while meeting with constituents at a church in eastern England

U.K. Conservative MP David Amess poses with a dog outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, on Sept. 17, 2003. The lawmaker, who was fatally stabbed on Friday, was a longtime champion of animal rights. (John Stillwell/PA/The Associated Press)

Story Transcript

You'd be hard pressed to find anyone from any political party with a bad word to say about David Amess, according to his friend and colleague Pauline Latham.

That's because the long-serving U.K. member of Parliament got along well with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and was well-liked among his constituents, she said.

Amess was meeting with those constituents on Friday when he was fatally stabbed at a church in Leigh-on-Sea, a seaside town east of London. Police arrested a 25-year-old man and recovered a knife at the scene.

Amess, 69, was a Conservative backbencher for nearly 40 years, first as the MP for Basildon, and later as the representative of Southend West. He spent most of career championing animal rights and pushing to make Southend an official city.

Latham, the Conservative MP for Mid Derbyshire, spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about her lost colleague. Here is part of their conversation.

What was he like?

He was a man who everybody liked, who was respected, who never particularly wanted to be a minister, who was very happy to be on the back benches, as some of us are. There are some very ambitious people who want to go up the greasy pole to be ministers, but he didn't.

He worked incredibly hard for his constituents and ... he wanted [Southend] to get city status. And I think there'll be a campaign amongst those of us that are left who will want that to happen in his memory, because I cannot remember a time in my 11 1/2 years in Parliament where he didn't mention it.

And he was the sort of person that had a twinkle in his eye. He had a sense of fun, but he was a very kind, gentle man who was respected by colleagues from all political parties. I don't think you'd ever hear anything bad said about him from anybody in the House of Commons, and much further afield than that.

Flowers and a balloon are pictured outside the scene where Amess was stabbed in Leigh-on-Sea. (Andrew Couldridge/Reuters)

He may not have been ambitious to be a minister, but he was recognized for his contribution, wasn't he? He was knighted in 2015, and I understand he dressed up from head to toe in armour and sat on a horse. Was that sort of his nature, of his character?

Yes, because he had a sense of fun and because he loved life. And he was obviously deeply honoured by being made Sir David Amess, rather than just plain David Amess. But he didn't get pompous or brag about it. He was just very proud of that honour that was given to him.

Is there any news today as to who is suspected and what motive might have been suspected in the slaying of Sir David?

There's been a 25-year-old man who has been arrested at the scene. The knife was found [and] the police are not looking for anybody else. 

But at the moment we know nothing. We don't know whether it was any sort of terrorist incident. We don't know if it was a hate crime. We don't know anything other than the fact that he's tragically lost his life doing his duty.

It's a big blow for democracy, because he was democratically elected by the people of his constituency. And if you can't go about your business safely and peacefully, what is democracy all about? I mean, it just seems to me that we have to preserve democracy, and we will take a look at security and peace.

He was the sort of person that had a twinkle in his eye.- Pauline Latham, MP

But the thing is, it's a very fine balance from protecting members of Parliament from the public, but actually letting us get out there and meet them. Well, that's what we do. That's what we want to do. We don't want to be shut away in a glass case. We actually need to meet our constituents as part of our job so that we know what they think. 

And certainly [when] we have a surgery [meeting with constituents] and people are coming to see [us], we're often the last port of call. They don't know where else to go, and they desperately need our help to solve a problem that's been a problem to them for maybe years, certainly months, quite often. And we try to help them to the best of our ability, to try and unlock what the problem is. And that's exactly what Sir David was busy doing in his surgery. That's what we all try to do — to help people.

And he was a very Christian man. He led his life through his Christian faith. He was a strong Catholic. 

MP Pauline Latham worked alongside Amess and says he had a sense of fun and a zest for life — but he took his work very seriously. (Jessica Taylor/U.K. Parliament/Reuters)

I'm sure that people are thinking about what happened in 2016 to another MP, Jo Cox, who was killed [under] very similar, strikingly similar, circumstances. And her murder was something that that was talked about around the world. It became an international concern about exactly what you're talking about — parliamentarians, people who represent their constituents, who need to go out and speak, and are vulnerable to these kinds of attacks. We talked then about what needs to change. But what needs to change to make lawmakers safe in order to do that?

It's a very difficult situation. I mean, the police, I understand, in some forces are going and talking to all the members of Parliament about how to make themselves safer, and that they're there for us. But they can't be there every second of the day, so we will always be vulnerable, I think. 

Those of us who live in our constituencies and spent a lot of time in our constituencies — which is the vast majority of MPs these days; it didn't used to be, but it is these days — and I think we will be a bit more worried about going out and about than we have been in the past.

We are up there trying to uphold the law and trying to do a good job for society, and we have put ourselves up. But of course, with that, it means that we are in more danger than the average person in the street. You know, that is terribly sad.

Having said that, we do have a bit of a knife crime problem in this country at the moment, and I think maybe this is something that the police are going to have to really reflect on, that lots of young men are being stabbed in this country. 

Do you fear for your own safety now, with what's happened to him?

I will be looking behind me probably a little bit more. But he was probably facing the person that murdered him, so I think we will have to reflect.

But now is the time to think about his family. And the time for protecting members of Parliament — and more importantly, protecting democracy — is for next week and beyond. At the moment, we're thinking much more about his friends and family and his work colleagues in his constituency. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Sarah Jackson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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