One of Scotland Yard’s top officers today insisted that ‘laying flowers is not a crime’ as the ‘battle of the bouquets’ outside the home of a pensioner forced to kill a burglar trying to rob him entered a fourth day.
Deputy Commissioner Sir Craig Mackey has been criticised for calling the death of career criminal Henry Vincent a ‘tragedy’ for his family and telling those tearing the flowers down to ‘act respectfully’.
Vincent, who was armed with a screwdriver, was stabbed as he raided 78-year-old Richard Osborn-Brooks’ home while the pensioner and his wife, who has dementia, were asleep in the London property last Wednesday.
The Met has been urged to ‘bulldoze’ a shrine to Vincent outside the Hither Green house, which has been ripped down four times this week by irate locals who regard it as an insult and a veiled threat to Mr Osborn-Brooks.
Sir Craig told LBC today: ‘This is a tragedy for the family [of Henry Vincent] who have lost a loved one. It is also a tragedy for the homeowner forced to take the action he did.
‘It would have been preferable if the pavement had remained clear and the local area had not become the focus of disruption which then needed police resources to manage.
He added: ‘We want those laying flowers to respect the local people and the impact on them. Those opposed to the flowers should act responsibly, respectfully and reasonably’.
Many listeners have been upset by the response, with one saying on Twitter: ‘Grow a backbone and stop the flowers being laid’ while another said: ‘Those flowers should be cleared. But yet again you have to appease a minority. Man up and police the streets properly’.
A new local vigilante has torn down the floral shrine to the stabbed burglar Henry Vincent – the fourth time in three days
Scotland Yard wants Hither Green residents to ‘respect’ the memorial to the criminal. Some locals claim they have been threatened with arrest.
Vigilante Iain Gordon was the latest person to tear flowers down yesterday and called it a memorial to a ‘scumbag’ who spent his life ‘casing out the joints of old people’ and robbing them.
The burglar’s family has laid more than 100 bouquets as well as balloons and cards across the road from the home, which Mr Osborn-Brooks cannot return to amid fears his life could be in danger.
Why hasn’t the burglar’s shrine been removed and is it breaking the law?
Police insist they cannot remove the flowers and cards from the Hither Green street because it is not a crime.
But members of the public have contacted the Met saying that it is a veiled threat to Richard Osborn-Brooks, who stabbed to death Henry Vincent after he broke in.
Critics have said that the memorial constitutes harassment of locals in Hither Green – but the police seem to disagree.
Under section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 a person is guilty of causing harassment, alarm and distress if they ‘display any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby’.
One upset resident told MailOnline today: ‘In the context when this poor man cannot return to his home how can this not be threatening?’.
A chief superintendent said those mourning the dead man, Henry Vincent, should not be ‘intimidated’ or feel they were not allowed to respond in a ‘dignified way to a tragic death’.
The remarkable intervention has appalled neighbours whose quiet street has become a ‘war zone’ as the family of the dead criminal descend on the area.
More than 20 bouquets of flowers, as well as cards, soft toys and balloons have been placed on a fence opposite the home of Richard Osborn-Brooks, 78. It was in this house that Vincent, 37, was fatally stabbed when he confronted the terrified pensioner and his disabled wife in the early hours last week.
The tributes to the career criminal have been repeatedly taken down by locals in Hither Green, South-East London, only to be replaced by Vincent’s family.
The traveller’s relatives keep returning to put it all back up again including cards from his parents, girlfriend and children who say he had a ‘heart of gold’ and was ‘too good to walk the earth’.
His children have left a banner on a road sign promising to ‘never let you go’ and one daughter wrote a message for her ‘one in million’ dad saying: ‘I love you more than anything in the world. I will never be ashamed to call you my daddy and you was the best one I could ask for’.
Yesterday, as they were ripped down for a fourth time, chief superintendent Simon Dobinson said: ‘My officers have a responsibility to provide reassurance to local residents so they can go about their daily lives, while also respecting the wishes of family and friends to mark the loss of a loved one.
‘I do not want anyone to feel intimidated or that they are not being allowed to respond in a dignified way to a tragic death.
‘We would urge members of the public to respect the wishes of those who choose to place flowers and other tributes in the area.’
Midday Wednesday: Mr Gordon kicked some bouquets down the street and later threw them in a passing bin lorry
Wednesday 8am: Henry Vincent’s family returned to the south-east London street to restore the shrine after it was ripped down for a third time last night
9.30pm Tuesday: Having ripped half of the tributes from the fence, the man then took them around the corner (left) before stamping on them (shown right)
6pm Tuesday: Police officers on horseback patrol the scene amid growing unrest in the street, with neighbours furiously pulling down tributes to the dead burglar left by relatives
5.30pm Tuesday: Loved ones of Henry Vincent returned once again this evening and started re-attaching tributes to the fence opposite the home of Richard Osborn-Brooks after they were dismantled overnight and again this afternoon
3.30pm Tuesday: A man wearing a hat hacks down the shrine for career criminal Henry Vincent, opposite the home of Richard Osborn-Brooks
2.10pm Tuesday: The shrine had been rebuilt earlier today by relatives and friends of robber Henry Vincent after it was vandalised last night
Last night one of the vigilantes who tore down part of the memorial claimed he was threatened with arrest if he did it again.
The family of Henry Vincent (pictured) insist that he was murdered by the man he was burgling
The man, known as Mike, said: ‘We’ve been warned that if we do take them down again they will nick us so it’s a bit trickier. There’s a copper standing right next to the fence keeping an eye on the flowers. You’d think the coppers would have better things to do.’
Families living close to Mr Osborn-Brooks’s home have become exasperated by the continued presence of the shrine, which they believe to be in poor taste and deliberately designed to antagonise them.
A 58-year-old resident, who has lived on the road for 18 years, said: ‘The flowers have made things worse. They keep going up then are taken away.
‘Now we are living in a war zone in what has always been a quiet street and it needs to stop. Police have to be the grown-ups and calm things down. It can’t go on.’
One neighbour, who did not give her name for fear of reprisals, said: ‘This is a quiet community and it’s being ruined. The attention is ramping up and its causing vigilantes from outside the area to turn up. We feel under threat and it’s putting us all in danger.’
But in an extraordinary intervention Chief Superintendent Dobinson, Lewisham Borough commander, appeared to take the side of the burglar’s family, who are from the travelling community.
He said: ‘I am aware of the concerns that have been raised by residents regarding the floral tributes placed in Hither Green.
‘We would urge members of the public to respect the wishes of those who choose to place flowers and other tributes in the area.
‘We would also request those placing tributes or visiting the area to behave in a responsible manner so as not to disrupt the local community.
‘Officers are not there to safeguard or facilitate the laying of floral tributes. We are liaising with the local authority who are considering appropriate management of the floral tributes.
‘A small police presence remains in place in and around South Park Crescent to provide reassurance to the public. There have been no arrests. Officers will assess any potential criminal offences including any allegations that are made to police, which will be dealt with in a fair and appropriate manner on an individual basis.’
Members of the London Fire Brigade arrive to fit smoke alarms at the home of pensioner Richard Osborn-Brooks in Hither Green, suggesting they fear it could be targeted
Officers said they would need to receive a complaint from the owner of the fence on which the shrine is erected to take action.
Billy Jeeves, 28, is on the run following a botched raid at the south east London home of Richard Osborn-Brooks last Wednesday
Firefighters fitted smoke alarms in Mr Osborn-Brooks’s £500,000 home and door-to-door salesmen took advantage of the chaos by trying to sell burglar alarms to neighbours worried about security.
Mr Osborn-Brooks was initially arrested on suspicion of murder – sparking a political outcry – but two days later was told he would face no further action. That, in turn, angered Vincent’s family, who have branded the pensioner a ‘murderer’.
Mr Osborn-Brooks and his wife have been forced into hiding and may never be able to return to their home amid fears of a vendetta against them.
The latest episode of the drama came at midday yesterday, when Iain Gordon, from nearby Lewisham, ripped down the remaining bouquets from the fence and put them in a rubbish truck.
He said: ‘It’s disgraceful. In this country there should be no rights for criminals’, adding: ‘My dad fought in Monte Casino for a two bob a week pension, and you’ve got scumbags coming around here with f***ing toys, coming down here with your f***ing toys’ – a reference to the plethora of teddy bears left in memory of Vincent.
As he tore down the tributes he told MailOnline: ‘These are scumbags, scumbags, scumbags, we’ve had enough in this country of scumbags. It’s disgraceful’.