Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

Police quiz teens over murder of pensioner

Tragedy: Francis O’Neill
Tragedy: Francis O’Neill

Police have launched a murder inquiry after a pensioner was found dead after a suspected burglary at his Co Tyrone home.

The body of Francis O’Neill (78) was discovered at his home at Brook Valley in Omagh during the early hours of Saturday morning. His house had apparently been ransacked.

Two teenagers aged 16 and 18 who were originally arrested on suspicion of burglary were re-arrested and were being held in connection with Mr O’Neill’s murder last night.

A post-mortem was carried out yesterday morning, although a PSNI spokesman said details about Mr O’Neill’s injuries and the circumstances of the incident were not yet being released for “investigative reasons”.

The area surrounding Mr O’Neill’s home remained sealed off on Sunday afternoon as searches by police forensic experts continued into a second day.

Mr O’Neill was a retired psychiatric nurse who worked at the Tyrone and Fermanagh Hospital and was well known in the Omagh area.

Local SDLP councillor Josephine Deehan, who knows the family, said the town had been stunned by the news.

“This is a really shocking and tragic ending for an elderly man who devoted his life to caring for others,” she said. “That this is now a murder investigation is very disturbing news.

“It means that we have people in our community who are capable of perpetrating violent crimes against the elderly, and that is hugely concerning for people in the Omagh area.”

Police question two teenagers over murder of 78-year-old manPolice at the scene of pensioner Francis O’Neill’s murder in OmaghALAN LEWISCONTINUED FROM PAGE 1

Ms Deehan visited the scene on Saturday and said people in the area had been left in fear after Mr O’Neill’s death.

“It is a lovely, secluded estate which is home to a lot of elderly people,” she said. “They are just stunned by what has happened and this will have generated a lot of fear.

“Mr O’Neill was quite active. He went into town most days, and he would have been well known and respected.

“I spoke with some of his neighbours on Saturday evening. They had seen him the previous day. He had seemingly been very happy and was looking forward to getting a rise in his pension.

“It is a huge tragedy and a terrible loss for his family. He was an elderly gentleman with the promise of many more years, and everyone has been left devastated by his violent death.”

Sinn Fein councillor Sean Begley said there had been other incidents of violent crime in the West Tyrone area in recent months.

“There have been a number of robberies and now this,” he said. “When these incidents happen, particularly to older people, it creates a fear amongst the elderly.

“This man kept himself to himself, but he was very much a part of the Omagh community and I would extend my thoughts and sympathies to his family.”

Mr O’Neill was a father and it is believed his wife died several years ago.

Independent councillor Patrick McGowan knew Mr O’Neill well and said his thoughts and sympathies were with his family. “He was quiet and inoffensive, a very outgoing person,” he said. “He was a great man for walking and you would have seen him out every day.”

Detectives are appealing for witnesses or anyone with information to come forward. They can be contacted on 0845 600 8000 or the Crimestoppers number is 0800 555 111.

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