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UK lawmaker stabbed to death while meeting with constituents

LONDON — A member of Parliament was stabbed to death Friday during a meeting with constituents at a church in eastern England, an attack that united Britain’s fractious politicians in shock and sorrow. A 25-year-old man was arrested at the scene.

Police gave no immediate details on the motive for the killing of 69-year-old Conservative lawmaker David Amess and did not identify the suspect, who was being held on suspicion of murder.

The attack came five years after another lawmaker, Jo Cox, was murdered in her small-town constituency, and renewed concern about the risks politicians run as they go about their work representing voters. British politicians generally are not given police protection when they meet with their constituents.

Essex Police said officers were called to reports of a stabbing in the seaside town of Leigh-on-Sea just after noon and arrested a man and recovered a knife.

“We are not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident and do not believe there is an ongoing threat to the wider public,” police said.

Sky News and others said Amess was attacked during a regular meeting with constituents at Belfairs Methodist Church in a residential area of Leigh-on-Sea, about 40 miles (62 kilometers) east of London. Paramedics worked at the scene without success to save his life.

Amess had been a member of Parliament for Southend West, which includes Leigh-on-Sea, since 1997, and had served as a lawmaker since 1983, making him one of the longest-serving members of the House of Commons.

A traditional Conservative on the right of his party, he was a well-liked member of Parliament with a reputation for working hard for his constituents and was well known for his ceaseless campaign to have Southend declared a city.

Politicians from across the political spectrum expressed shock and sorrow at the death of Amess, who leaves a wife and five children.

Conservative lawmaker Tracey Crouch tweeted: “Heartbroken. I could write reams on how Sir David was one of the kindest, most compassionate, well liked colleagues in Parliament. But I can’t. I feel sick. I am lost.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party 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.”

Carrie Johnson, wife of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wrote on Twitter: “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.”

Violence against British politicians is rare, but concerns have grown in recent years about the increasingly bitter polarization of the country’s politics. In June 2016, a week before the country’s divisive Brexit referendum, Cox, a Labour Party lawmaker, was fatally stabbed and shot in her northern England constituency. A far-right extremist was convicted of her murder.

Cox’s widower, Brendan Cox, tweeted Friday: “Attacking our elected representatives is an attack on democracy itself. There is no excuse, no justification. It is as cowardly as it gets.”

British lawmakers are protected by armed police when they are inside Parliament, and security there was tightened after an attacker inspired by the Islamic State group fatally stabbed a police officer at the gates in 2017.

But politicians have no such protection in their constituencies. Amess published the times and locations of his open meetings with constituents on his website.

Two other British lawmakers have been attacked over the past two decades during their “surgeries,” regular meetings where constituents can present concerns and complaints.

Labour legislator Stephen Timms was stabbed in the stomach in 2010 by a female student radicalized by online sermons from an al-Qaida-linked preacher.

In 2000, Liberal Democrat lawmaker Nigel Jones and his aide Andrew Pennington were attacked by a man wielding a sword during such a meeting. Pennington was killed and Jones wounded in the attack in Cheltenham, England.