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Manhunt for Clapham chemical attack suspect Abdul Ezedi continues for sixth day

Fresh details have emerged about the sex crimes which led to Abdul Ezedi’s conviction as the manhunt for the suspect in a chemical attack continued for a sixth day.

Police have offered a £20,000 reward to anyone with information leading to the 35-year-old’s arrest as they released more CCTV of him as they piece together his movements.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police have been searching for Ezedi since Wednesday after a woman and her two daughters, aged eight and three, were injured in the attack in Clapham, south London.

The 31-year-old mother may lose the sight in her right eye after being doused with corrosive liquid, police said.

Ezedi, believed to be from Afghanistan, is understood to have arrived in the UK in 2016, reportedly in the back of a lorry.

He avoided jail after pleading guilty to charges of sexual assault and exposure, instead being placed on the sex offender register for 10 years and ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work when he was handed a suspended sentence at Newcastle Crown Court on January 9, 2018.

Ezedi was accused of grabbing the bottom of a woman without her consent in 2017, as well as committing a sex act that same year, according to documents detailing the indictment which were disclosed by the court to the PA news agency on Tuesday.

Under sexual offences laws, victims are granted lifelong anonymity unless they waive this right and choose to be identified.

The details emerged as a bishop said she would make no apologies for religious leaders supporting asylum seekers.

Questions continue to swirl around how Ezedi came to be granted asylum in the UK despite his conviction, amid suggestions a tribunal judge ruled in favour of his claim after a priest confirmed he had converted to Christianity and was reportedly “wholly committed” to his new religion. It is understood the priest in question was not Roman Catholic or from the Church of England.

On Tuesday, the diocese of Newcastle, in the Church of England, confirmed it had found “no evidence” of Ezedi “attending any of our churches, or being supported by our clergy in any asylum application”.

It added that its clergy “will continue to support asylum seekers as they engage with the Home Office application process, and the scrutiny this involves”.

Bishop of Chelmsford Guli Francis-Dehqani, who came to the UK as a refugee, said it was “saddening” for politicians to claim a link between abuse in the asylum system and the actions of clergy in the wake of the case.

Writing in The Telegraph, she said she makes “no apology for our involvement in supporting people who are often deeply vulnerable and traumatised”.

Clapham Common incident
Police at the scene in Lessar Avenue near Clapham Common, south London (James Weech/PA)

She said religious ministers from all denominations occasionally provide statements of support to people seeking asylum, “but it is wrong to think of this as some sort of magic ticket”.

“The notion that a person may be fast-tracked through the asylum system, aided and abetted by the Church is simply inaccurate,” she added.

The debate over the clergy’s involvement in the asylum system comes after religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, vocalised their opposition to the Government’s plan to send migrants seeking sanctuary in the UK to Rwanda.

On Tuesday, police said “painstaking work” by the counter terrorism officers – who are “highly experienced in manhunts and tracking offenders” and have been drafted in to help scour hundreds of hours of CCTV – meant Ezedi had now been traced from his last-known position at 9.47pm on Allhallows Lane in the City of London.

At 9.54pm he travelled along Upper Thames Street and then into Pauls Walk, passing the City of London School and then towards Blackfriars Bridge.

The most recent sighting is at 10.04pm when he passed the Unilever building and headed towards Victoria Embankment, the Met said.

Commander Jon Savell said it “remains our belief that he is being helped by others” and the police probe will continue to “target more of Ezedi’s associates”.

On Monday, he said investigators are keeping an open mind as to where he may be or what may have happened to him.

They tracked his movements around the Tube network using his bank card, but it has not been used since that day.

Ezedi, who is from Newcastle, is not the father of the children in the attack and was in the capital visiting the victim, police believe.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Detectives are working on the premise that he is either being hidden by someone or has come to harm.

Officers arrested a 22-year-old man on suspicion of assisting an offender on Monday and later released him on bail.

But they said there is no evidence to suggest Ezedi had made advance preparations to go on the run.

More than 100 officers are now “dedicated” to the investigation, including experienced detectives through to local neighbourhood officers, with the Met being “supported by “dozens of officers” from forces across the UK, including in Northumbria and British Transport Police.

The Met is also in touch with the National Crime Agency, the Home Office, UK Border Force and UK Visas and Immigration, with details of Ezedi circulated to all UK police forces and ports.

More than 200 calls have been received from members of the public with potential sightings, but they have since been discounted.

Ezedi allegedly threw the younger child to the ground during the attack at 7.25pm before attempting to drive away from the scene, crashing into a stationary vehicle and fleeing on foot.

Three members of the public who came to the aid of the family during Wednesday’s attack, two aged in their 30s and one in her 50s, have all been discharged from hospital with minor burns.

Policing minister Chris Philp told BBC News officers were using “all the resources at their disposal” to find Ezedi, warning “nobody should be harbouring this man or offering him any kind of protection”.

He urged anyone with information to contact police immediately, adding: “Obviously he himself has disfigured his face. He’s very recognisable.”