SENTENCED TO A LIFE IN HIDING
A PENSIONER was yesterday judged to have ‘lawfully killed’ a burglar, but has been condemned to looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life.
Richard Osborn-Brooks, 79, used ‘ proportionate force’ when he stabbed career criminal Henry Vincent with a 12-inch kitchen knife, a coroner ruled. But despite the victory, Mr Osborn-Brooks and his wife Maureen, 77, have been forced to leave their London home of 42 years and warned never to return.
Police fear members of Vincent’s travelling community could target the couple. They have new identities and live in a mystery location, and Mr OsbornBrooks’s face was obscured when he gave evidence via videolink at yesterday’s inquest into Vincent’s death in Southwark Coroner’s Court.
Coroner Andrew Harris ruled that Mr Osborn-Brooks ‘acted in self-defence’ after being terrified by two masked men who raided his home at night.
Campaigners said the ruling would reassure millions of homeowners that they have the right to defend themselves without fear of arrest. Scotland
Yard was widely criticised after Mr Osborn-Brooks was arrested on suspicion of murdering Vincent hours after the burglary at his £500,000 home in Hither Green, south-east London, in April last year.
The move sparked a public outcry, with MPs, friends and neighbours asking why he had been arrested for defending himself and his frail wife.
Thousands signed a petition calling for the retired RAC manager to be cleared and thousands of pounds was raised to pay his legal fees. Police later said Mr Osborn-Brooks would face no further action over the death of the career criminal. Tory MP Philip Davies described yesterday’s ruling as ‘a victory for common sense’.
He said: ‘I’m delighted that a homeowner has been exonerated for doing no more than protecting himself in his own property. I hope this gives a clear message to homeowners – and also to criminals – that people are allowed to protect themselves against intruders.
‘They always say that an Englishman’s home is his castle and I think there have been too many cases in the past where the homeowner has been on trial, or have been found to be in the wrong, for protecting their own property from an unwanted and uninvited intruder.’
Fellow Tory MP David Davies added: ‘Homeowners need to know that they can use a large degree of force if they are confronted in their homes at night by burglars who may be armed with weapons.’
Criminologist David Green, director of think-tank Civitas, said: ‘You should be entitled to defend yourself in your home. I think this [verdict] will reassure homeowners. To me, the important message is to the police – that the law fully supports the householder to defend his or her home and those in it against attackers.
‘The police shouldn’t arrest people when they have done that. If during a desperate struggle in your own home, in defending someone, you accidentally kill someone, then it is reasonable that you should not
suffer legal consequences.’ Ministers toughened up controversial ‘bash a burglar’ laws in April 2013 to dispel doubts over the right to fight back. The measures sought to remove the threat of a burglary victim being arrested – let alone charged – if they used violence to drive an intruder away or stop them advancing through their home.
But the legislation did not stop Scotland Yard from arresting Mr Osborn-Brooks.
The pensioner was upstairs with his wife when they were disturbed by a knock on the front door shortly after midnight.
When Mr Osborn-Brooks answered the door, he was forced backwards by Vincent, 37, and accomplice Billy Jeeves, who were both wearing balaclavas. After being pinned into a corner, the pensioner managed to grab a kitchen knife and Jeeves fled.
Vincent, who was high on drugs and armed with a screwdriver, shouted: ‘Come near me and I’ll stick you’. The pensioner, who has a heart condition, said ‘mine is bigger than yours’ before stabbing the burglar in the chest. Vincent died in hospital hours later.
In his judgment, Mr Harris said: ‘The householder was terrified and asserted he acted in self-defence after an assault by the other intruder. In considering the force [used], it would seem that given there is two intruders at night, one with a weapon, the use of moderate force would seem to me to be proportionate.
‘The combination of unpredictability and fear were factors that have to be taken into account considering the proportionality of the force that was used. The householder insists there was no intention to harm. He indicated surprise that he had actually stabbed the victim.’
Mr Osborn-Brooks, a former soldier, said he had never intended to use the knife and only wanted to frighten the intruders into leaving his home. ‘He came for me with the screwdriver and I just put the knife forward and he more or less went into it. I didn’t realise I had stabbed him until he stepped back.’
After being arrested, Mr Osborn-Brooks and his wife faced death threats from Vincent’s associates and told they could never return to their home, which was put on the market for £100,000 under its market value last month. The 1920s terrace, which is still shuttered up, was quickly snapped up for £400,000 by a property developer.
Shrines to Vincent were put up just yards from the house, sparking further outrage.
Sir Craig Mackey, then deputy commissioner of Scotland Yard, said he would not stop shrines being erected and described Vincent’s death as a ‘tragedy’.
‘The householder was terrified’