Birmingham vigil to Manchester terror attack victims evacuated after descending into angry scenes

It was supposed to be an opportunity to show solidarity and defiance in the face of terror as well as spare a moment's thought for the 22 people, including children as young as eight, slain at the hands of a suicide bomber in Manchester.

But in the end the candle-lit vigil in Birmingham almost ended in the kind of fear and uncertainty it had tried so hard to combat as an armed man was arrested while another member of the public, infuriated at the cries of an anti-war campaigner, had to be physically restrained by officers.

It was also later claimed a UKIP politician was told not to attend the event because his safety 'could not be guaranteed'.

More than 100 mourners were swiftly evacuated from Victoria Square shortly after 7pm on Tuesday as a 'precaution' by West Midlands Police.

Moments before, a man around the corner near the entrance of the city art gallery had been heard shouting loudly causing bewildered and anxious looks from the crowd.

Police arrested the 39-year-old from Birmingham, known to them due to ill-mental health, whilst also recovering an axe and a stick.

The evening had begun with poignant scenes as people leaving work in the sunset-drenched second city silently and solemnly watched on as dozens of candles were lit at the foot of the council house which had its flag billowing gently at half mast.

Among them were sisters Kirsten and Orli, aged eight and six, from Kings Heath who laid their own. Their father Jon Miles, told the Express & Star: "They felt very upset this morning. They asked why those children didn't grow up to become adults."

There were more touching moments including the sight of a group of British Transport Police Cadets watching on impeccably still - a symbol of the brave emergency services who tended to the victims and the children who had left their homes to watch Ariana Grande in concert at the MEN Arena but never returned.

A minute's silence was also well observed.

Sharon Campion, of Sandwell Unison, hosted the event on behalf of Stand Up to Racism and anti-Islamaphobia group MEND.

She said: "The message is simple, we need to stand in solidarity and unity and not let the racists divide us."

Bishop of Birmingham Reverend David Urquhart was the first of many faith leaders to take the microphone and expressed the fears of many onlookers.

He said: "Ariana Grande was having a concert in the NEC only a week before. Parents and children in our region will be thinking it could have been us."

While Reverend Desmond Jaddoo helped turned the sombre mood into one of defiance by whipping up chants of 'We are all one'.

He added: "One thing we do every time there is a tragedy is gather together in unity. But why don't we live in unity all of the time?."

Newly elected Andy Street was among numerous political figures to speak.

He said: "The message tonight is from each and every community in all parts of this region to say we stand utterly united in two things; our condemnation of what has happened and also our determination to defend our way of life."

Birmingham City Council leader John Clancy, who was born in Manchester, also gave an emotional address saying: "We as a city put our arms around Manchester with love. That's the only response to the terrorists."

But tensions reached boiling part in the latter part of proceedings. Not long after the crowd became unsettled from the shouts of the allegedly armed man nearby, anti-war campaigner Stuart Richardson, from Birmingham Stop the War Coalition, prompted jeers as he claimed Islam-related terror attacks had been fuelled by Britain's intervention in Middle-Eastern conflict.

One onlooker, wearing a leather jacket and clasping a motorcycle helmet, became so incensed he stormed forwards demanding he 'put the microphone down'. After initially resisting police attempts to retrain him he was led away arm in arm with officers.

Afterwards UKIP spokesman for Birmingham Keith Rowe claimed his invitation to the ceremony had been rescinded.

He said: "I thought that the whole point of vigils such as this is to stand together in solidarity against those who would divide us and damage the democratic freedoms we hold so dear.

"It appears that this event has been taken over by a group called Stand up to Racism who do not seem to understand the irony of the situation as that is exactly what I have done for all of my life."

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