After just 18 minutes of deliberation, a jury at the Old Bailey found Ali Harbi Ali, an Islamic radical, guilty of murdering Sir David Amess, who since 1997 had served as the Conservative MP for Southend West. The jury also convicted the 26-year-old of preparing terrorist acts.
The verdict was read out to the defendant, who refused to stand “on religious grounds,” on April 11th. Sir David’s family were in the courtroom for the decisive moment, but Mr. Ali himself is reported to have been emotionless while learning of his conviction.
This guilty verdict comes as little surprise. Last week, Mr. Ali spent 80-minutes being questioned in the witness box by his own counsel. Far from contradicting the case earlier advanced by the prosecutor Tom Little QC, he openly confessed to killing of Sir David and gave every indication that he would have been prepared to commit further terrorist acts of murder.
Mr. Ali told the court that he was partially motivated by regret at not being able to fight alongside Islamic State in Syria. He admitted to killing Sir David because the MP had voted, with his Conservative colleagues, for military airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria in 2014 and 2015: “I felt that if I could kill someone who made decisions to kill Muslims, it could prevent further harm to those Muslims.” Pretending to be a constituent, Mr. Ali arranged to meet Sir David at the MP’s surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, before proceeding to stab him more than 20 times with a foot-long carving knife.
Sir David died at the scene without the benefit of Last Rites which, as a Catholic, he would have wanted. The police guidelines were such that a priest who had rushed to the scene to administer these rites to the dying MP was refused access by law enforcement—a problem which has since been rectified by new guidelines issued to British police.
While testifying, Mr. Ali also confirmed that a note found on his phone from 2019 detailed “plans I had to attack and hopefully kill Michael Gove at the time.” Mr. Gove is the Conservative MP for Surrey Heath who, like Sir David, also voted to bomb ISIS targets in Syria. The defendant’s frank admission of plans to kill Mr. Gove, along with other targets including the Justice Secretary Dominic Raab and the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, only bolstered the prosecution’s central case. Mr. Ali further informed the court that he had hoped to die as “a martyr” when the police arrived, but realised that this was not possible when he saw that the two first responders, PCs Scott James and Ryan Curtis, were unarmed.
Despite his frank testimony, Mr. Ali continued to deny the charges of murder and preparing terrorist acts. The defendant’s only substantial resistance to the case for the prosecution concerned the word ‘terror.’ Mr. Ali rowed back from his previous confession, the one given to police when he was first brought into custody, that ‘terror’ was his motivation. Instead, before the court he held that his action was no different from the decision by MPs to bomb Islamic State strongholds in Syria. “I don’t think I would use those words now,” he told the court, referring to his past use of the word ‘terror’ to sum up his motivation. “If I was to use that word on myself, I would expect the British politicians who bombed Syria to use that word on themselves.”
On April 13th, Ali Harbi Ali was sentenced by the presiding judge to a whole-life prison term. While also citing Mr. Ali’s lack of remorse, Mr. Justice Sweeney said: “This was a murder that struck at the heart of our democracy.” He added that the late Sir David was “a man of the greatest substance.”
This trial was something of a stop-and-start affair, as a result of jurors and even the judge himself at one point testing positive for COVID-19. But despite the setbacks, Sir David’s family can now mourn him with some peace of mind, knowing that his murderer has been brought to justice and will die behind bars.