Counter-terror officers are leading the investigation into the murder of Tory MP Sir David Amess, who was repeatedly stabbed at a constituency surgery on Friday.
A 25-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder following the attack at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, near Southend, at midday, and remains in custody.
Speaking at a press briefing outside Southend Police Station on Friday evening, chief constable Ben-Julian Harrington said the 69-year-old Southend West MP was “simply dispensing his duties when his life was horrifically cut short”.
Mr Harrington said “it will be for investigators to determine whether this is a terrorist incident”, adding they will be “keeping an open mind” over the motive.
Tory veteran Sir David had been an MP since 1983 and was married with five children.
Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel returned to London from a regional Cabinet meeting in Bristol following the attack.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have also said they are “shocked and saddened” by the killing of the MP, adding their “thoughts and prayers” are with his family, friends and colleagues.
Speaking on Friday evening, Mr Johnson said: “I think all our hearts are full of shock and sadness today at the loss of Sir David Amess MP, who was killed in his constituency surgery in a church after almost 40 years of continuous service to the people of Essex and the whole of the United Kingdom.
“And the reason I think people are so shocked and saddened is above all he was one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics, and he also had an outstanding record of passing laws to help the most vulnerable, whether the people who are suffering from endometriosis, passing laws to end cruelty to animals, or doing a huge amount to reduce the fuel poverty suffered by people up and down the country.
“And we’ve lost today a fine public servant and a much-loved friend and colleague, and our thoughts are very much today with his wife, his children, and his family.”
We are shocked and saddened by the murder of Sir David Amess, who dedicated 40 years of his life to serving his community.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues. W & C
— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) October 15, 2021
Mr Johnson was asked how he and his Cabinet colleagues reacted when they heard the news, and said: “I think everybody was deeply shocked and heart-stricken, and our thoughts as I say are very much with his family, with his wife, with his children.
“And for the rest I mean we must really leave the police to get on with their investigation.”
“We attended and found a man injured.
“He was treated by emergency services but, sadly, died at the scene.
“A 25 year-old man was quickly arrested after officers arrived at the scene on suspicion of murder and a knife was recovered.
“He is currently in custody. We are not looking for anyone else in connection with this incident.”
It later tweeted: “We are now in a position to sadly confirm the man who died in #Leigh-on-Sea today was Sir David Amess MP.”
Sir David had been the MP for Southend West since May 1997, having previously served as the MP for Basildon.
Earlier this year Sir David spoke out about anti-social behaviour and knife crime.
He was a firm supporter of Brexit and the Leave Means Leave campaign. He also opposed bills furthering LGBT rights, including equal age of consent and same-sex marriage.
Leaders from across the political spectrum expressed their shock and sadness at Sir David’s murder. Flags have been lowered to half mast outside Parliament.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab tweeted: "Heartbroken that we have lost Sir David Amess MP.
"A great common sense politician and a formidable campaigner with a big heart, and tremendous generosity of spirit - including towards those he disagreed with. RIP my friend."
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, said: “I am shocked and deeply distressed by the killing of Sir David Amess.
“David was a lovely man, devoted to his family, to Parliament and his Southend West constituency. He was well-liked by Members and the staff alike, and during his almost four decades here, built a reputation for kindness and generosity.
“This is an incident that will send shockwaves across the parliamentary community and the whole country.
“In the coming days we will need to discuss and examine MPs’ security and any measures to be taken, but for now, our thoughts and prayers are with David’s family, friends and colleagues.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid tweeted: “Devastated to learn of Sir David Amess’ murder. A great man, a great friend, and a great MP killed while fulfilling his democratic role.
“My heart goes out to Julia, his family, and all who loved him. Let us remember him and what he did with his life.”
Communities Secretary Michael Gove described Sir David’s death “heart-breakingly sad”.
“Just terrible, terrible news,” he tweeted. “He was a good and gentle man, he showed charity and compassion to all, his every word and act were marked by kindness. My heart goes out to his family.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “Elected representatives from across the political spectrum will be united in sadness and shock today.
“In a democracy, politicians must be accessible and open to scrutiny, but no-one deserves to have their life taken while working for and representing their constituents.”
The Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, tweeted: “Absolutely devastating news about Sir David Amess.
“He was hugely kind and good. An enormous animal lover and a true gent. This is so completely unjust. Thoughts are with his wife and their children.”
His death comes more than five years after the Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist in her Batley and Spen constituency.
Brendan Cox, Ms Cox’s widower, described the stabbing of Sir David Amess as “as cowardly as it gets”.
He tweeted: “Attacking our elected representatives is an attack on democracy itself. There is no excuse, no justification. It is as cowardly as it gets.”
Aerial footage showed multiple police officers outside Belfairs Methodist Church and an air ambulance remained at the scene.
A large cordon extended down Eastwood Road, with members of the public gathering behind it, and multiple side streets were closed off.
A local shop worker said he saw the aftermath of the incident at the church.
Lee Jordison walked around to the church from Hicks butchers where he works after seeing emergency services, including armed police and an air ambulance, rushing to the scene.
“We could see a police cordon set up... (someone outside) told me a woman had come out screaming on the phone, saying 'someone's been stabbed, please get here soon, he’s not breathing’,” the 40-year-old told PA.
“There was a lot of talk at the church that it was (Sir David) and plenty of people had seen him outside saying hello to people outside the church 20 minutes before.
“It's very shocking... I’ve worked up here and lived up here all my life and never seen anything like this - it’s terrible news.”
A vigil was held on Friday evening at St Peter’s Church in Eastwood Lane close to where he was killed.
The church fell silent as Father Jeffrey Woolnaugh paid tribute to the Conservative MP referred to as “Mr Southend.”
Some 80 people attended the vigil where a photograph of Sir David was placed at the front of the church.
"This liturgy is one I was not expecting to lead today,” Father Woolnaugh said.
"The whole world grieves. In this Mass we pray for the repose of the soul of dear David.
"Have you ever known Sir David Amess without that happy smile on his face? Because the greeting he would always give you was that happy smile.
"He carried that great east London spirit of having no fear and being able to talk to people and the level they're at. Not all politicians, I would say, are good at that."
Essex Police said anyone with information should contact the force quoting incident 445 of 15 October.