An Irish priest who became a close friend of murdered Conservative MP Sir David Amess has described him as a man who was always looking out for other people.
Fr Pat Browne officiated at the wedding of Mr Amess and his wife, Julia, in 1983, in Westminster Cathedral, and was also the celebrant at the baptism of their five children.
He was due to say Mass at the wedding of Mr Amess’s daughter, Katie, before Christmas, in the chapel at the Palace of Westminster.
Fr Browne has been a priest in the Westminster diocese for the last 47 years. He got news that an MP had been stabbed to death as he was preparing to officiate at a wedding Mass.
“I saw a headline at 1.55pm and I hadn’t time to read it or follow through to see how badly he was stabbed. At that stage he wasn’t dead. It was only when the wedding was over that I rang an MP who told me he had died.”
Mr Amess was fatally stabbed while conducting a constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, in Essex, on Friday. The chief suspect in his murder is a British national of Somali heritage, and Scotland Yard said, in a statement overnight, that its inquiries "revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism".
Fr Browne, originally from Ratoath, Co Meath, is the parish priest at Our Lady of the Apostles, in Pimlico, central London. In 2009 he became the first officially Roman Catholic duty priest at the UK house of parliament since the Reformation.
In that capacity, he got to know Mr Amess well. Fr Browne said the MP for Southend West was somebody of a strong Christian faith who was consistent in his pro-life views – he opposed the death penalty as much as he opposed abortion.
“He was very conscious of his faith and tried to live by it. He was a nice man in every way. He lived life to the full. He looked out for all forms of life. He was always looking out for the underdog,” Fr Browne added.
His concern for all forms of life included his opposition to fox hunting, which he was adamantly against – a stance that did not make him popular in sections of the Conservative Party. “He was always his own man,” Fr Browne said.
In 1988 he, as one of the few Catholic MPs in the House of Commons at the time, brought Mother Teresa to see the then British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.
He was the founder of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Holy See, which lobbied to ensure that proposals to merge the British embassy to the Vatican with its embassy in Italy did not come to fruition.
Mr Amess was from a working-class Catholic background in the East End of London. His inherited his Catholicism from his mother, Maud.
“He was very gregarious, very fun-loving and a bit whacky. When he was made a knight [in 2015], he dressed up in a knight’s uniform,” Fr Browne recalled.
“He was always arguing in the chamber that Southend should be recognised as a city. He was always having a laugh at his own expense, but he was a very serious man.
“He really took to heart people’s concerns and worked for everybody in his community. He was very concerned about his colleagues. If he heard one was sick, he would come and visit them. He was always looking out for people.”
On Monday the multidenominational chapel in Westminster will be open all day for people to come and remember him. A large memorial service and funeral will take place later on.