Sir David Amess made no secret of where he was going to be on Friday 15 October: details of his constituency surgery at Belfairs Methodist church were pinned at the top of his Twitter account several days in advance.
Among those who turned up, according to witnesses, was Ali Harbi Ali, a 25-year-old British-born man whose family had fled to the UK from Somalia. Sources close to the investigation into Amess’s killing indicated on Sunday that Ali had booked an appointment to see the MP.
Before Amess met Ali he took his final Zoom call. It was a meeting with the celebrity PR Richard Hillgrove to discuss plans for the Children’s Parliament, an initiative that aimed to match 650 British schoolchildren with MPs to create a virtual parliamentary session on the eve of Cop26, the UN climate change conference. Hillgrove’s daughter Lola had been matched with Amess, who visited her at school earlier in the week for photos to promote the event.
“He was in fantastic spirits, in a real ‘go get ’em’ mood, making loads of jokes,” said Hillgrove. “We were going through the running order for the event and he had promised to get Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker of the House of Commons, to do a video to promote it.”
The Zoom call ended at 12.02pm. Three minutes later, Amess had been stabbed multiple times in front of shocked aides. One of them called 999. Police arrived swiftly and arrested a suspect. He reportedly had made no attempts to flee the scene but was calmly sitting next to Amess’s body.
“This was a difficult incident but our officers and paramedics from the East of England ambulance service worked extremely hard to save Sir David. Tragically, he died at the scene,” the Essex police chief constable, Ben-Julian Harrington, said later.
Word soon spread across Leigh-on-Sea and a priest arrived to offer Amess the last rites. Father Jeffrey Woolnough had rushed to the church with his holy oils but police would not let him past the cordon. “A Catholic, when they’re dying, would want a priest there, and for reasons that only the police know, I was not allowed in,” he said.
He had found out about the attack on the news. “I got my clerics on, and got the holy oils, sort of expecting that I might be allowed on the crime scene to administer the oil of the sick. I didn’t know at that time what kind of condition he was in … but it didn’t sound great, so it was a just-in-case matter.
“When I got there I showed my card to the police and I asked if there was any chance that I can get in. And in fairness the policeman there radioed through and said: ‘I’m afraid not, this is a crime scene.’”
Instead, Woolnough prayed the rosary outside the police cordon with a parishioner. “Working with the police, we have to respect what they said. It would’ve been a great thing to do if I’d have had the chance, but it wasn’t to be,” the priest said.
Within 36 hours of the attack, the suspect was named in the media as Ali. His father, Harbi Ali Kullane, a former adviser to the prime minister of Somalia, later confirmed to the Sunday Times that anti-terrorist police from Scotland Yard had visited him since the attack.
“I’m feeling very traumatised. It’s not something that I expected or even dreamed of,” he said.
Police were granted a warrant of further detention at Westminster magistrates court which allows them to hold the suspect until 22 October.