4,766 crimes against the elderly, but 96% of cases remain unsolved
Shocking statistics spark call for tougher sentences
More than a dozen pensioners are the victims of crime every day in Northern Ireland – leading to calls for mandatory prison sentences against thugs who target our elderly.
In the last year, police investigated almost 4,800 attacks on people aged 65 and over.
The crimes included violence, sex assaults, robberies and burglaries.
Yet in the vast majority of cases the crimes remained unsolved. Just 4% – one in every 25 – resulted in someone being charged.
It has prompted calls for tougher sentences for those who terrorise older people.
Democratic Unionist MLA Paul Givan, who chairs the Assembly's justice committee, said thugs who targeted the elderly should be jailed.
"The figures for the number of attacks against older people are absolutely shocking, but even more so when taken in tandem with the paltry number of charges brought," he said.
"Mandatory minimum sentences for thugs who attack vulnerable older people not only demonstrates the severity with which these crimes are viewed, but would act as a real deterrent to those who might view it as an easy crime."
However, the PSNI insisted they treat crime against older people very seriously and are committed to bringing offenders to justice.
Police figures obtained by this newspaper show that in a single year police investigated 4,766 crimes where the victim was aged 65 and over.
It included 200 violent attacks, 54 robberies, 27 sexual offences, 150 cases of fraud and 1,154 burglaries.
The crime statistics, relating to the year ending March 31 2013, have risen by almost 9% compared to five years earlier.
Yet just 418 cases – around one in 11 – resulted in an arrest.
Even fewer – 189 or one in 25 – resulted in police charging a suspect. It means that in the vast majority of cases, no one was ever brought to justice.
Recent weeks have seen a series of high-profile attacks on older people. Last month a woman in her 80s was assaulted and injured and another woman in her 70s left badly shaken after raid at their home in Lurgan.
In a separate incident, two elderly sisters were robbed by masked men in south Belfast who stole £3,000 before fleeing.
Mr Givan, an MLA for Lagan Valley, said the DUP's call for mandatory sentences has received the backing of most Assembly members.
"We have made it clear that we would like to see the Justice Minister bring forward this legislation immediately and I would firmly repeat that call," he added.
"The police must also ensure that this crime is given the importance that it deserves.
"Older people have contributed so much to our society and they have the right to feel safe in their own homes," he said.
The Commissioner for Older People, Claire Keatinge, said research by her organisation found clearance rates for crimes against the elderly – including detection and prosecution – are lower than for any other age group.
Offences against older people have a clearance rate of just 9% compared with a rate of 17% for other age groups, she said.
Ms Keatinge said it was clear that crime against older people is less likely to result in prosecution.
"More must be done to support older victims of crime," she said.
"I have been highlighting the need to address this issue to the Policing Board and I have advised that they need to set specific targets in the Policing Plan due to be published on March 26.
"I have urged members of the Policing Board that they must go further than a general commitment to improving crime clearance rates."
The PSNI said it wants to see those who prey on the elderly brought before the courts. Officers have a specific ongoing operation targeting burglaries against the elderly, it said.
Operation Bullent is a Northern Ireland-wide drive to prevent and reduce the number of crimes committed against older people.
Superintendent Philip Knox said: "Let me assure you that we are doing our utmost to catch criminals who may be actively targeting older people.
"But we also need the community's help and co-operation to do so effectively. Someone out there knows who is perpetrating these cowardly crimes and someone can give us the information we need to bring these criminals to justice.
"Burglaries involving older people (60-plus) have reduced by 17% over last five years and older persons are much less likely to be a victim of crime than other persons," he added.
Four appalling cases where thugs preyed on older people
The frail 88-year-old woman narrowly escaped after thugs tried to burn her out of her home.
Eileen Hanna — who suffered a stroke two years previously — narrowly avoided death when the noise of smoke alarms alerted her to a blaze in the porch of her bungalow in Newcastle's Ballaghbeg Park.
Police said flammable liquid was sprayed through the front door letter-box onto papers below and set alight in the 2012 attack.
But Eileen, who had no idea why she was targeted, delivered a defiant message that she would not be leaving her home of 22 years.
Her family described the attack as attempted murder.
“I was getting into bed before 5am and the fire alarm went off,” Eileen told the Belfast Telegraph.
“When I got to the door the tail-end of the curtain was away up in flames and the lino was on fire too. I said to myself, ‘I will have to make a move'. I got a pot of water and threw it on it. I was on my walking stick.”
She added: “I do not know why they did it. It just must be badness.
“I just had to get over it. What else could I do? I will not be moving. It's an awful bustle to move at this age.
“I am worried because the oil tank is beside the house — what if that was set alight?”
Bertie Acheson (72), pictured right with his wife Sheila, collapsed and died after confronting an intruder in his home in Coleraine.
A post mortem examination found he died of a heart attack.
The burglar snatched a purse belonging to Mr Acheson's wife Sheila (70), who was in the bedroom of the couple's Glenmore Gardens home. Mrs Acheson suffers from arthritis and her husband was her carer.
She managed to raise the alarm, calling police and ambulance personnel to the home, but her husband was dead.
A husband and wife have been charged with Mr Acheson's murder.
COLIN & EILEEN BELL
An elderly brother and sister were assaulted by four burglars who ransacked their home and stole more than £1,000 in cash.
The men burst into their bungalow in Abbeyville Gardens in Newtownabbey.
Colin (72) and Eileen Bell ( 81) had lived in the quiet cul-de-sac for more than 45 years.
The men kicked down the front door and pushed the elderly residents into their front room.
Mr Bell, who had heart surgery a short time previously, was struck over the head as he tried to fight one of the men off.
He said: “I was getting up and he was saying ‘sit down' and I got tired of this and I just took a swipe at him, and then I used my feet too, and then he hit me.
“Two or three others rushed past and they went into the bedroom and started wrecking the place, obviously looking for money.”
The men stole pension books worth around £800, including their winter fuel allowance and another bag of cash in the 2011 raid.
Mr Bell received a black eye in the robbery.
MAY & EILEEN KELLY
The two elderly sisters were robbed by masked men in south Belfast.
May Kelly was visiting her sister Eileen at her house on Vernon Street when the attack happened.
The thieves stole about £3,000 from one of the sisters before fleeing.
"I'll never forget it... their masks. They said they were looking for somebody who was selling drugs. I said 'we're old-aged pensioners, we wouldn't be selling drugs'," said May.
"How could people do that?
"How would they like their mothers to get this?
"How would they like their mothers to be sitting and men come in? Old-age pensioners not able to defend themselves?"