Saturday 17 March 2018

Birmingham candle-lit vigil for Manchester victims cut short after 'armed man' arrested

A man is detained near to a candle-lit vigil being held in Birmingham for the victims of the Manchester Arena bombings, causing the event to be curtailed Credit: Richard Vernalls/PA Wire
A man is detained near to a candle-lit vigil being held in Birmingham for the victims of the Manchester Arena bombings, causing the event to be curtailed Credit: Richard Vernalls/PA Wire

Richard Vernalls

A candle-lit vigil in Birmingham in memory of those killed in the Manchester Arena bomb attack was cut short after a man believed to be armed was detained nearby.

The man shouted out as he was handcuffed and led away by officers with West Midlands Police, just a short distance from where 1,000 people had gathered in the city's main Victoria Square.

As he was taken away in a riot van in Edmund Street, which runs behind Birmingham's council house, a police sergeant could be seen carrying away what appeared to be a bat and a hatchet.

Speakers who had been paying tribute to the Manchester victims were interrupted by the man's loud protests, from down a side street.

Police, including armed response officers, then cleared the square a short time later.

The force's chief constable David Thompson - who had been attending the vigil in an official capacity - witnessed some of the incident.

He confirmed the evacuation of the square, in front of the council house, had been a precaution.

The man, who was black and had a short-trimmed beard, was stopped just two hundred yards from the packed square at about 7pm, where mourners had earlier been lighting candles.

It took several officers to restrain the man, who was then dragged away along the street, before he was placed in the back of the police van with his head bowed.

The man was initially stopped at a police cordon at the corner of Chamberlain Square, near a side entrance to the local authority building.

Several civic dignitaries including West Midlands Metro Mayor Andy Street, and the police and crime commissioner David Jamieson, had been attending the vigil.

Also present were city politicians Jess Phillips, Jack Dromey and city council leader John Clancy.

In a statement, West Midlands Police confirmed a man - who was known to officers and is believed to have a history of mental health problems - was arrested on suspicion of possessing an offensive weapon.

The 39-year-old Birmingham man was spotted by officers acting suspiciously and was spoken to.

Superintendent Andy Parsons said: "At this point they have arrested him.

"The man was carrying a bag, and as a precaution, Victoria Square where the vigil was being held was cleared for around 15 minutes.

"A small axe was recovered along with a large stick.

"We will be interviewing the man to understand his intentions after mental health experts have assessed his condition.

"I'd like to thank people for the calm and collected way in which they responded to the incident."

Until the interruption, a series of speakers had earlier called for solidarity with Manchester, where 22 people were killed in Monday night's attack.

The blast hit as show-goers were leaving a packed Ariana Grande pop concert, with one of the victims just eight-years-old.

Islamic State has since claimed responsibility for the attack.

In response, the Bishop of Birmingham the Rt Rev David Urquhart told the crowd: "We meet at a tragic time following the completely unacceptable, ruthless killing of defenceless and innocent children on a night out.

"Our compassion, our love and our sympathy goes out to those families who have lost loved ones and particularly those who are seeking to repair the injuries of those who survived but with terrible maiming.

"So we stand today in our city alongside the citizens of Manchester but also recognising that a concert like this draws people from communities across the country.

"We send our love and our compassion.

"We do so in solidarity with those who are passionate for peace."

He added: "For people who have experienced human evil, people in different parts of the world - some of the countries that we give hospitality to people from - here in this city have experienced terrible and unjustified violence

"And that's the way that sometimes human beings get caught up in evil and try to sort out their problems, their frustrations, by criminal murderous activity.

"We reject that as a way of sorting out all the world's problems.

"Tonight, here in Birmingham, we have representatives from all parts of the community.

"All the political parties, the elected mayor, the chief constable, the chief fire officer, the police commissioner and many members of faith communities and others who have automatically come to stand here quietly - not politically, not campaigning - but in our common humanity.

"We recognise that to combat evil it is necessary for good people to take action.

"Today we commend our law enforcement services, people working behind the scenes, to ensure this sort of thing cannot happen."

Other faith and community leaders also called for people to come together, rather than build barriers and division between communities.

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