Police have sought to soothe escalating tensions over floral tributes to an intruder killed in south London which were taken down yet again as angry residents lashed out on Wednesday, describing the makeshift shrine as “inappropriate”.
Local resident Iain Gordon tore down the latest bouquets from a fence opposite the Hither Green home of Richard Osborn-Brooks, who was arrested last week after an intruder died in his home.
The bouquets had been left earlier on Wednesday on South Park Crescent by the family of Henry Vincent, who was fatally stabbed during a bungled burglary.
The Metropolitan Police on Wednesday evening said it was “aware of the concerns” but that it would “urge members of the public to respect the wishes of those who choose to place flowers and other tributes in the area”.
Chief Superintendent Simon Dobinson, Lewisham Borough commander, said a small police presence remains and “officers will assess any potential criminal offences”.
As he was tearing down the tributes, Gordon declared: “We’ve had enough in this country of scumbags.”
Gordon, who said he was from the Fair Society group, added: “These people are scum bags, scum bags, scum bags.
“If you don’t know why I pulled the flowers down then you aren’t a human being. Would you go around allowing someone to stab your parents? Would you allow someone to come round with a screwdriver? And then be considered human beings?”
Gordon said he did not know Osborn-Brooks, but said it was “disgraceful” he could not return to his property. The pensioner and his wife Maureen, 76, have been under police protection since he was released.
“He’s a hero. Why shouldn’t he come back and live in his property? The police can’t protect him? How disgraceful is that? He cant go back to his property without loads of scumbags coming over here. It’s a disgrace.”
The deceased 37-year-old’s family have repeatedly tried to resurrect the shrine over the last few days, after it was twice taken down on Monday.
The latest flowers had replaced earlier tributes taken down around 9.30pm Tuesday evening, shortly after two woman had arrived at the scene to attach them to the fence.
The Met said Wednesday that it is keeping a “presence” in and around the Crescent to “provide reassurance to local residents”. A spokesperson added, however, that the location of the tributes is “not a matter for police”.
Mounted officers were seen patrolling the area on Tuesday.
Later on Wednesday night, Chief Superintendent Simon Dobinson, Lewisham Borough commander, said in a statement: “I am aware of the concerns that have been raised by residents regarding the floral tributes placed in Hither Green.
“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.
“They 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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
Today a 58-year-old resident, who has lived in the road for 18 years, told the Evening Standard that the floral tributes had increased tensions.
“The flowers have made things worse. They keep going up then 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.”
Another neighbour echoed those sentiments to the newspaper, saying 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.”
Osborn-Brooks, who was was arrested after Vincent’s death but later released without charge, has been hailed as a hero by some locals for challenging the burglar and his accomplice, who police are still trying to trace.
It also sparked national debate around over home intrusion laws and led to thousands of pounds being raised to support the 78-year-old.
Some reports suggest police have received a number of complaints over the hostilities between local residents and Vincent’s friends and relatives.
On Wednesday the Evening Standard said the man responsible for the latest shrine removal denied destroying the first set of flowers on Monday, but said he felt angry that the tribute had been erected near Osborn-Brooks’ home.
“I do feel very strongly about this... I think it’s quite disrespectful actually,” the man, who declined to be named, was quoted as saying.
“I do [feel bad for Vincent’s family]. But I feel extra for Mr Osborn.”
When asked what he was going to do with the flowers, the man replied: “I’m just going to dump them somewhere... Where can I put them?”
After he left the scene, the Evening Standard reported that a second man removed another bouquet.
On Wednesday morning Good Morning Britain host Eamonn Holmes called for the shrine to be removed to stop the standoff from continuing.
“The police should come along every day with some street cleaner, a bulldozer, whatever and lift it up and dump all this stuff every single day,” he said.
Speaking at the scene on Tuesday, a woman claiming to be Vincent’s aunt said the family will “never come back” if the bouquets are left intact.
Elvina Lee, who said she was Vincent’s first cousin, described the people removing the flowers as “scum”, and called Osborn-Brooks a “lowlife”.
“This is the best place for these flowers to be. I don’t know what’s wrong with these people … I think they’re scum,” she said at the scene on Tuesday.
Vincent, she said, “was like a brother to me, he loved his family and his three babies”.
“He wasn’t a murderer, he wasn’t a rapist, they’re putting (sic) him as a monster,” she added.
The man who pulled the flower off the fence on Monday identified himself as Cecil Coley and said he did so after becoming “infuriated” by the tributes.
The BBC noted that was also the name of a 72-year-old florist who was arrested on suspicion of murder after he stabbed an armed intruder to death in his Greater Manchester shop in 2011. Coley was later released without charge.
Vincent’s alleged accomplice, Billy Jeeves, 28, is still being sought over the failed burglary, Scotland Yard said.