‘It’s such a senseless act’: shock in Leigh-on-Sea at David Amess killing

·3 min read

Appropriately grey skies greeted those who attended the scene of Sir David Amess’s killing on Saturday morning, with dozens of well-wishers arriving at Belfairs Methodist church to leave flowers and otherwise pay their respects.

“It’s a very sombre day,” said Robert, 69, who lives in the Belfairs area of Leigh-on-Sea, with his wife, Kay, 68. They said they did not want to give a surname because their son was outside the church at the time of the attack and was traumatised. Robert said of Amess: “He was so charitable, so present in the community: he put in an immense effort to attend all of his surgeries. [He was] just that sort of guy.”

The Conservative MP was fatally stabbed while holding a constituency surgery at the church on Friday. His visibility in the community and charity efforts, including on behalf of Belfairs riding school, which provided horse-riding for disabled people, was a recurrent theme in the conversations taking place outside.

“We saw the air ambulance arrive from our garden,” said Kay. “It’s such a violent, senseless act … Sir David was everything you could want from an MP and now we’ve lost him.”

Floral tributes and a handwritten message attached to a picture of David Amess
Floral tributes and a handwritten message attached to a picture of David Amess. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Robert and Kay’s son had an appointment to see Amess at Friday’s constituency surgery but arrived late to find police preventing him from entering the church. If he had been on time, he would have been inside when the attack began. “He’s traumatised … if he hadn’t been late he might have been there to help,” said Robert.

Boris Johnson, Keir Starmer, and the home secretary, Priti Patel, visited Leigh-on-Sea on Saturday morning. The prime minister was one of many to leave flowers, laying a wreath outside the church.

The drone of a police helicopter circling the scene could be heard for much of the early afternoon. A police cordon remained in place, blocking off a roughly 40-metre stretch of Eastwood Road, a short high street in the north of Leigh-on-Sea, a small town three miles west of Southend.

“It’s something you’d never expect to happen here: it’s more like a village than a town. Everyone knows everyone,” said Julie Swan, 68.

Around the corner from the scene was a tent staffed by volunteers with the international charity Rapid Relief Team. Handing out bacon sandwiches and coffee to police officers and private security personnel, one volunteer said people had been bussed in from around the south-east to offer care and compassion to those affected by the incident.

Many of those walking down Eastwood Road on Saturday were dressed in black or carrying large bouquets of dahlias or white lilies. In addition to the usual scenes of families waiting outside the Co-op or the post office, four police vans lined the road.

Trevor Rayner, 65, was one of those leaving flowers at the scene. He placed an autumn bouquet on the ground by the police cordon, including a card that read: “May the grace of our great lord, hold you in his loving arms RIP.”

Rayner is a full-time carer for his wife. He said Amess had helped his family on numerous occasions and recently sent a “get well soon” text to his wife, who has a long-term illness.

“I’ve known David for 10 years,” said Rayner. “He saw the best in people, our thoughts go out to his friends and family.”

Alluding to the death of Jo Cox in comparable circumstances during the 2016 EU referendum campaign, Rayner said: “This has happened before. Why isn’t the government calling for more security for MPs?”

“The community is heartbroken,” he added. “The simple question now is why?”

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