Guilty as Charged: MP David Amess’ killer receives whole-life sentence

April 20, 2022

3 min read

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What's going on here?

Ali Harbi Ali has received a whole-life sentence for the murder of Conservative MP for Southend West, Sir David Amess.

What does this mean?

After entering Amess’ political surgery on Friday 15 October 2021 (which is a face-to-face meeting where Members of Parliament can discuss matters with their constituents), Ali stabbed the MP over 20 times. During his trial, Ali said that he intended to target multiple MPs but he was quickly arrested. He explained that his motivation for the murder was to seek revenge against Amess who voted for airstrikes against Isis in Iraq and Syria. Before his attack, Ali, an Isis supporter, sent a manifesto to his family on WhatsApp justifying his actions.

Ali said to the jury that he felt no remorse for his actions, and on Monday 11 April 2022, it took the jury only 18 minutes to convict him of murder. Judge Mr Justice Sweeney gave a whole-life sentence instead of a life sentence with a minimum term, meaning Ali will not be considered for parole and will never leave prison.

What's the big picture effect?

This story adds to an ongoing debate surrounding the safety of MPs. In 2016, Labour MP Jo Cox was shot and killed by a far-right extremist on her way to a routine political surgery in West Yorkshire. The almost identical murder of David Amess five years later highlights the risks politicians face as public figures representing the Government. As a result, there has been a push for “David’s Law” to be passed which would end anonymity online and require social media users to prove their identity. While online users would still be able to legitimately criticise politicians, David’s Law would prevent the onslaught of abuse that many MPs currently face.

Since Amess’ murder, many MPs have expressed their fears about meeting with the public. For example, Conservative MP Mike Freer said he and his staff will have panic alarms and wear stab vests for constituency surgeries. Also, Labour MP Jess Phillips said: “I already feel more distant from my constituents and their issues than I did when I first started”. It is clear that safety concerns and fears of violence are negatively impacting MPs. An important role of an MP is to act in the best interest of their constituents through attending surgeries. However, if MPs are in fear and are reluctant to meet their constituents, this role could be at risk.

In response to these concerns, some MPs have called for a move to virtual constituency surgeries rather than face-to-face surgeries. This would still allow constituents to talk with their MPs but in a safer, more controlled environment. Using platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams for political surgeries would be a natural progression within the new era of video communications popularised during the pandemic. However, Home Secretary Priti Patel implied that this idea is unlikely to take off when she said: “We live in an open society, a democracy, where we (MPs) are accessible to the people and that is right and proper”.

The discussion about moving political surgeries online puts a spotlight on the nature of democracy and begs the question of how important it is that constituents have direct face-to-face contact with their MPs. Though the shift to online surgeries is unlikely to occur soon, it is imaginable that the future of political participation will become increasingly virtual, especially considering how the internet and social media has become a part of our everyday lives. The more time we spend online, the more important it is that legislation such as David’s Law is enforced to protect those who are most at risk from online abuse.

Report written by Jola Atunwa

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