As a good friend, whom I greatly admired, words cannot express my sense of sadness and loss over the murder of Sir David Amess. He was first elected in 1983, aged just 31, a year before myself, so our political careers – as fellow Catholic MPs – ran almost parallel. My prayers have been conveyed to his bereaved widow Julia and his five children. There will be a Requiem Mass and memorial. The tributes in the Commons reflected the great esteem in which David was held from all sides.
As the dreadful crime was committed on 15 October in Leigh-on–Sea, in Essex, I was doing my own Friday afternoon surgery in Stone, Staffordshire while my friend was stabbed 17 times by a Somali stranger who had booked an appointment to see his MP. Later that evening, my Conservative Association held a two-minute silence to commemorate this great and lovely man for whom his faith was an integral part of his life.
That a local Roman Catholic priest arrived at the scene of the crime, only to be refused to give the last rites to David as he lay dying is tragic and shocking. I know it would have been what David would have wanted. That the priest, Father Woolnough, was turned away because the area was a “crime scene” is deeply troubling. The priest had to recite prayers from the roadside outside Belfairs Methodist Church. An enquiry must go into the police’s failure of respect for an MP’s religion.
David was a staunch Catholic and reader of the Catholic Herald. He was a traditional Catholic throughout his life. His Catholicism meant everything to him. Writing to the Herald recently in relation to his most recent book, he said: “My Catholic faith has sustained me through my period as a Member of Parliament, guiding me in all aspects of my life. I have been a staunch advocate for animal welfare and a vocal supporter of the pro-life movement.”
In his book, Ayes & Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster, he explained the importance of his faith to his political career. I had the pleasure of taking part in a programme with him to promote the book and the charity Prost8, which promotes early detection and treatment of prostate cancer. During the conversation about this book, tragically, he said: “This is not my last book because I am writing another one about animals, and then about my life.” He was also a very strong supporter of Endometriosis UK, helping women who suffer from this condition.
As part of his Catholic and charitable outlook on life, he became one of the most prominent constituency backbenchers in Parliament. He was elected as MP for Basildon in 1983 and became the MP for Southend West in 1997, following a boundary change. He was loved by his constituents. He was engaging and effective from the backbenches and came to personify the ideal constituency MP who put others first, placing political service before self-serving ambition. He achieved great success in promoting his causes through determined hard work, such as championing animal welfare and pro-life matters.
He protected animals against cruel tethering and instigated the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act in 2000. He also introduced a bill against fuel poverty and managed to avoid the pitfalls facing many private members’ bills by his employing ingenious procedural manoeuvres. He hailed the bill as his “proudest achievement”. He served on the Health Select Committee for nine years and became chair of the Conservative Party Backbench Committee for Health, including a 2004 inquiry into obesity in the UK.
His continuous campaign to promote Southend is legendary, and one can only hope that Southend will finally achieve city status, as he always wanted. This would be a fitting tribute to his legacy. I will always remember the constant smile on his face as he rushed around the Commons at speed, ever active and resolute in the pursuit of his constituency and parliamentary duties. Nobody could ever forget him.
He was a strong advocate of a referendum for Britain on the European issue. He supported Brexit because of his belief in freedom, democracy and self-government. He also took an active part as a member of the British delegation in support of freedom and democracy in Iran.
The horrific circumstances of his death have appalled the British people as an attack on our democratic way of life. He wrote about the murder of Jo Cox in his book, saying: “While it is often said that good can come out of someone’s death, it is difficult to see what good can come from this senseless murder.” He then explained the need for safety and security for MPs. On the question of constituency surgeries, he warned that these “increasing attacks” have spoilt our tradition of the people “openly meeting their elected politicians”.It is a sad indictment of our secular times that Father Woolnough, refused access to anoint David, told the Sunday Telegraph that “the police don’t call you anymore unless the family ask for it. You can’t give the last rites when the person is dead – it’s the last sacramental right that Christians will have before they die.”. David’s memory and spirit will live on. But police attitudes must change to respect an individual’s religion and its sacred customs.
Eternal rest give unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.
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