Armed police swoop on Ilford man holding a lighter

Armed police pounced on a homeless man holding guns to his head after reports he was brandishing a firearm – only to discover he was holding a keyring lighter.

Rough sleepers on a bench near Thompson Close, Ilford, said they were surprised when they saw around five armed police swoop on their friend, who was lighting a cigarette, on Monday afternoon.

Ashley Robinson, of Ilford, a friend of the homeless man, said: “They came out of nowhere, pushed him to the floor and were holding guns to his head, shouting at him to drop whatever he had.

“He doesn’t speak very good English because he is Bengali, so he couldn’t say anything back.”

The man, named by friends as Bilal Ram Sharma, was detained in Ilford police station, opposite where the incident took place.

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Another friend, John Crossland, said: “We honestly don’t do drugs or guns, we just like to have a drink. We knew it was a mistake.

“I spoke to him after and he was not in shock. He’s been through a lot and there isn’t much that can shock him,” he added.

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Friends and eyewitnesses described the “gun” as a keyring lighter, which was shaped as a handgun, no bigger than three inches long.

On Tuesday, police confirmed the incident to the Recorder.

A Met police spokesman said: “On July 18, at just after 3pm, a male possibly in possession of a silver handgun was seen in Thompson Close, Ilford.

“Armed police were assigned and the male detained.

“The handgun was found to be a cigarette lighter and the man was released with no further action. He was not arrested.”

Armed police stationed in central London were called to Thompson Close, which is a stone’s throw from Ilford police station and often used as a meeting point for homeless people.

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