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The beatification of the burglar

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

A community is at loggerheads with the family of a burglar over a "shrine" at the property where he was killed

In the early hours of Wednesday 4th April 2018 two men broke into a pensioners house in Hither Green, a suburb of London. Henry Vincent, 37, and an accomplice armed with screwdrivers are understood to have forced 78 year old Richard Osborn-Brooks into the kitchen before a struggle ensued in which Henry Vincent was fatally stabbed. His accomplice dragged Mr. Vincent into the road outside, but left him for dead on the pavement.

There was outrage and frustration when Police arrested the pensioner Mr. Osborn-Brooks on suspicion of murder as the British public once again entered a fierce debate on the rights of self defence against home intruders. There was horror that the pensioner had been arrested, although the police are required to follow procedure in the event of a suspicious death. The British Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have previously issued guidance on the circumstances surrounding self defence in your own home and it seems they felt these criteria were met in this case as Mr. Osborn-Brooks was subsequently released without charge.

This decision was greeted with a new outpouring of disgust , this time from the family of Mr. Vincent who spoke of him as a loving father and a good man who deserved justice. The facts of Mr. Vincent's life and previous convictions make this stance rather difficult for many to swallow. A career criminal who had made a living conning and intimidating pensioners out of their money and property.

Residents in the area have spoken of a feeling of intimidation and the feeling is that Mr. Osborn-Brooks and his disabled wife may never be able to return their home for fear of revenge attacks.

Members of Mr. Vincent's family and close knit traveller's community started to leave flowers in his memory on the fence of the house opposite the property where he died. They called Mr. Osborn-Brooks a "coward" and a "low life" who should face charges for murder. This has led to an extraordinary and unprecedented stand off as furious residents have repeatedly torn the flower tributes down and the family have returned at least three times to reinstall their tribute. Police are patrolling the road on horseback to maintain the peace, but despite the fury of locals the Police say they are powerless to prevent the makeshift shrine being put up. Residents describe the shrine as both an insult and a menacing act against the terrified OAP and his wife Maureen. Sources in the traveller community have told journalists that his family and friends are out for blood to exact revenge against the pensioner.

This story is still unfolding and has highlighted a fault line, long present in British society, between travellers and the rest of the community. That the residents in Hither Green have found the courage to remove the shrine in the face of aggression and intimidation from the family and friends of Mr. Vincent would suggest that tensions are unlikely to de-escalate anytime soon. The traveller community have spoken of Mr. Vincent's children grieving for a loving father and how there has been no indication of remorse from Mr. Osborn-Brooks for his actions, especially toward the children. Society seems to have concluded there is little appetite to extend such a courtesy to a violent career criminal who broke into an old couple's home.

Crown Prosecution guidelines state that in the event of a home invasion you do not need to wait to be attacked before using defensive force. The greater the fear for your safety or that of your family, the greater the degree of force permitted. Reasonable force in defence of yourself or your family does not extend to setting traps or continuing to attack an intruder who is incapacitated or unconscious. Clearly the CPS felt that Mr. Osborn-Brooks acted within the law, whether the travellers community will accept that decision is what we all wait to find out.

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