London - A pensioner cleared of blame after killing an armed burglar may never be able to return home amid fears of a vendetta against him, police have told residents.
Richard Osborn-Brooks, 78, and his disabled wife Maureen have not been seen at their £500 000 property since Henry Vincent died after a break-in last week.
With the couple believed to be staying at an undisclosed location in fear of their lives, their house has been fitted with security grilles – and a police surveillance camera has been mounted on a nearby lamppost.
Mr Osborn-Brooks – initially arrested on suspicion of murder – was told on Friday he would face no further police action. But neighbours in Hither Green, South-East London, now fear he will be the target of reprisals from the criminal clan to which Vincent, 37, belonged.
The dad-of-four threatened Mr Osborn-Brooks with a screwdriver after disturbing the pensioner and his wife in their bed. He forced him downstairs as an accomplice ransacked a bedroom, but during a struggle Vincent was fatally stabbed.
Serial burglar Vincent was part of a large family describing themselves as travellers. Many live on a housing association estate in St Mary Cray, near Orpington.
According to residents, Vincent was part of a tight-knit community whose members have a reputation for violence. One of the extended Vincent clan shamelessly declared on social media a few years ago: "An OAP a day keeps ur bank balance at bay. The old b******s deserve everything they get."
While Mr Osborn-Brooks’s neighbours and friends were relieved at his exoneration yesterday, any celebrations were muted because of nervousness over his future. "The police have told us unofficially there’s no way he’ll be able to move back into his home with his wife," one told The Mail on Sunday, asking not to be named. "The kind of people involved in this will stop at nothing to have their vengeance.
"It’s awful that Richard and Maureen will have to move away towards the end of their lives."
While the circumstances are very different, Mr Osborn-Brooks’s case echoes that of Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, who had a £60 000 bounty put on his head after he shot dead a 16-year-old traveller who broke into his property in 1999. Initially given life for murder, the Court of Appeal replaced Martin’s conviction with one of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and he was released in 2003.
Vincent, his father and five uncles were convicted in 2003 of a £450 000 building scam in which they targeted elderly people across South London and Kent. A judge described it as ‘the worst case of cowboy builders I have ever come across’.
On Saturday, friends of Vincent left a card and flowers around the corner from Mr Osborn-Brooks’s house, near where the criminal died. It read: ‘Henry, loved and cared for by many. A heart of gold. May God bless you.’
Mail On Sunday