Burglar fatally stabbed by homeowner was lawfully killed, inquest rules
Henry Vincent had entered the home of elderly Richard Osborn-Brooks in south-east London in the early hours of April 4 last year.
A career criminal fatally stabbed by an elderly homeowner as he raided the pensioner’s home was lawfully killed, a coroner has ruled.
Henry Vincent’s chest was pierced with a 12-inch kitchen knife brandished by Richard Osborn-Brooks, who had warned the screwdriver-wielding intruder that his weapon was “bigger than yours and if you don’t leave my house you will be sorry”.
But Vincent, who had cocaine and heroin in his system, ignored his warning and instead “ran into” the blade, Mr Osborn-Brooks told Southwark Coroner’s Court heard.
The 79-year-old had told Vincent “get out of my house you bastard or it will be the worse for you” as he attempted to protect his elderly wife Maureen, the inquest heard.
Balaclava-wearing Vincent and another masked accomplice entered the house in South Park Crescent, Hither Green, south-east London, demanding cash in the early hours of April 4 last year, the inquest was told.
Senior coroner Andrew Harris recorded a verdict of lawful killing on Thursday.
He said: “The householder stabbed Mr Vincent in his own home on April 4, 2018 just after midnight after he and another intruder had threatened him in an attempted burglary.
“The interaction that led to the stabbing was the simultaneous approach of the deceased with a small screwdriver and the forward movement of the householder with a kitchen knife, leading to moderate force being applied by the knife to Mr Vincent’s chest, and its penetration.
“The householder was terrified and asserted he acted in self-defence after an assault by the other intruder.
“He was close to, but not obstructing, the exit by the intruder.
“In considering the force 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 reasonably be proportionate.
“It seems to me the combination of unpredictability and fear were factors that have to be taken into account considering the proportionality of the force that was used.”
Mr Osborn-Brooks, who gave evidence via an audio link, said two men had knocked on his door, grabbed him and pushed him inside, with one shoving him towards the kitchen and the other running upstairs.
Mr Osborn-Brooks said after he picked up the largest kitchen knife from a six-knife holder, Vincent’s accomplice fled through the front door shouting “get out quick he’s got a knife”.
He told the hearing Vincent then came down the stairs brandishing a screwdriver and said: “Get out of my way or I’ll stick you with this.”
Mr Harris, reading Mr Osborn-Brooks’s police statement to him, said: “You said ‘I think you’re wrong because mine’s bigger than yours and if you don’t leave my house you will be sorry’.”
Mr Osborn-Brooks said: “I was just showing him that the knife I had was actually bigger than the screwdriver. So if he was to lunge at me he would hit my knife rather than hit me first.
“I thought he would look at my knife and see it is bigger than his implement and he would take the opportunity to run out the front door, which was open.
“My intention was to get him out of the house and away from my wife.
“I still think that Mr Vincent rushes forward intending to do me harm and he ran into the knife that I was holding between us.
“He definitely didn’t try to get out of the front door, he came towards me.”
Vincent fled the property at around 12.45am, before collapsing nearby. He died in University Hospital Lewisham around three hours later.
His mother, Rose Lee, told the hearing: “Why couldn’t that gentleman have just stepped back like a normal person would have?
“How could the young man that was killed lunge forward to this gentleman when he’s squashed between the door, the wall and the stairs?”
Mr Osborn-Brooks was initially arrested on suspicion of murder, but was told by police he would face no further action.
His arrest sparked a public outcry and an online fundraising campaign in support of him raised thousands of pounds.
Vincent’s sister Rosie told the hearing: “My brother was not a violent person. He was a father, he was a son, he was a brother.
“No-one deserves to die.”
Mr Osborn-Brooks, who used to fence when he was in the army, said: “It was not an experience I ever had before nor wish to have again.
“It terrified me. I felt terrified. helpless. I thought if they continue to think we have money in the house they might do something to hurt her (my wife) so we give it up.”
Pathologist Simon Poole, who carried out the post-mortem examination on Vincent, said in a statement that the toxicology report indicated “a recent use of both cocaine and heroin”.
He added Vincent “may have been experiencing the effects” of the drugs at the time of his final raid.
The cause of death was given as an incised wound to the chest.
The usually quiet south London neighbourhood became a flashpoint when friends and family of Vincent laid flowers and cards opposite the home of Mr Osborn-Brooks.
The tributes were repeatedly torn down by neighbours and well-wishers angry at the shrine to career criminal Vincent – only to reappear again within hours or days.
Vincent, from Lime Road in Swanley, Kent, was jobless and single at the time.