Outrage is building over the “disgraceful” call from police to allow the family of a dead burglar to leave tributes to him opposite the home of a pensioner he tried to burgle last week.
As a turf-war has rumbled on in south London’s Hither Green suburb this week, between supporters of 78-year-old Richard Osborn-Brooks and the family of Henry Vincent, police have “monitored” the situation but refused to get involved.
On Wednesday night, after floral tributes to Vincent – who died after trying to burgle Osborn-Brooks’ home – were torn down for the third day running, police issued a statement calling for “respect”.
Chief Superintendent Simon Dobinson said he was “aware of the concerns” raised by residents over the shrine, but called on them to “respect the wishes” of those who choose to pay their respects in public.
Comedian John Bishop on Thursday added his voice to a growing chorus of frustration over authorities allowing the tit-for-tat struggle to spiral into a daily spectacle attracting crowds of photographers.
His comments came a day after a YouGov poll found 82% of respondents thought the tributes were not appropriate.
Bishop said police’s advice to residents was “a disgrace”, given Vincent had spent his life “preying on pensioners”. The 37-year-old was already wanted for another burglary at the time of his death.
Osborn-Brooks, who was arrested after Vincent’s death but later released without charge, has been hailed as a hero by some locals for challenging him and his accomplice, Billy Jeeves, who remains at large.
The pensioner and his 76-year-old wife Maureen have not returned to their home since he was released and remain under police protection over a case that sparked a national debate over home intrusion laws.
Media reporting of the case has also varied greatly. Today some reports took the line that Hither Green residents had been told to respect mourners, while others suggested it was those laying tributes that had been warned.
Chief Superintendent Dobinson said the stand-off put police in a difficult position: “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.”
He said the Met is liaising with the local authority who are “considering appropriate management of the floral tributes”.
A Lewisham Council spokesperson said: “We are working closely with the Police who are monitoring the situation and maintaining a visible presence in the area. Additionally, we have given out letters of reassurance to residents.”
The council did not explain what the letters say, or how they are dealing with the situation
Dobinson said a small police presence would remain around South Park Crescent “to provide reassurance to the public”.
No arrests have been made in connection with the tributes.
Speaking on Thursday, Met Deputy Commissioner Sir Craig Mackey admitted police would have preferred Vincent’s family had not laid flowers near the scene of his death.
“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 said.
“The local authority are considering how the flowers and items are managed and we are inputting to that. As the situation stands, that is how this has to be dealt with as laying flowers is not a crime.”
MacKey reiterated the earlier request for residents to respect those in mourning.
Mackey said the situation was a “tragedy for the family who have lost a loved one” and a “tragedy for the homeowner forced to take the action he did”.
On Wednesday, Iain Gordon, who said he was part of the Fair Society group, removed flowers laid by Vincent’s family for the fourth time.
They were pulled down twice after being put up on Monday, then again on Tuesday. Each time Vincent’s family has replaced them.
Gordon, from Lewisham, tore down the remaining half of the tributes just after 12.30pm, saying: “These people are scumbags, scumbags, scumbags.”
He added: “If you don’t know why I pulled the flowers down then you aren’t a human being.
On Wednesday a 58-year-old resident, who has lived in the crescent 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.”
In January Greenwich Council was accused of having “no shame” after removing a memorial to murdered soldier Lee Rigby, near where he was murdered in 2013, because it became “unsightly”.
“We are acting now because the number of items has expanded significantly in recent months and any have been weathered, worn and look unsightly,” the authority is reported as saying at the time.