Belfast Telegraph

Appeal to intruder after break-in that ended in tragedy

He murdered elderly Bertie and robbed his traumatised wife... now the culprit is urged to give himself up to police

By Deborah McAleese

A burglar who murdered a 72-year-old grandfather during a struggle in his home and then robbed his frail wife as she lay in bed has been urged by police to hand himself in.

Coleraine pensioner Bertie Acheson collapsed and died during a confrontation with an intruder in the kitchen of his Glenmore Gardens home in the very early hours of Monday morning.

The intruder, who is thought to be in his late teens or early 20s, then went into his victim’s bedroom where he attacked his 70-year-old wife Sheila, who suffers from severe arthritis, and stole her red purse along with £375 in cash.

When Mrs Acheson went to look for her husband she found him lying dead on the kitchen floor.

It is suspected that Mr Acheson — who was his wife’s main carer — may have died from a heart attack brought on by the struggle.

Police believe that the intruder, who broke into the house at around 1.30am using a brick to smash a back window, could have been cut or injured during the incident.

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Harrison said that Mr and Mrs Acheson were in bed when they were disturbed by the sound of breaking glass. When Mr Acheson got out of his bed to see what had happened he was confronted by the male intruder.

“The intruder demanded money,” Mr Harrison said.

“There was an altercation and a struggle which resulted in Mr Acheson falling to the floor.

“The intruder then made his way into the bedroom where he confronted Mrs Acheson, who is 70 years of age and suffers from arthritis.

“The intruder repeated his demands for money and — after another altercation — he took Mrs Acheson’s red purse and made good his escape,” said Chief Inspector Harrison.

As part of their investigations, police have said that they want to hear from anyone who was in the Glens area of Mountsandel, particularly Glenmore Gardens and Glenwood Avenue, at around 1am on Monday.

DCI Harrison also made a direct appeal to the intruder, urging him to hand himself in to police.

“Come forward and make yourself known to police before we come to you.

“This is a burglary which has tragically turned into a murder — don’t make things any worse for yourself than they already are. Hand yourself in,” he said.

“This was a tragic incident which has caused widespread shock in the local community.

“I would appeal for everyone in the community to work with us to bring this intruder before the courts,” Mr Harrison added.

Mr Acheson was well-known and highly respected in the Coleraine community.

He used to work for Northern Ireland’s electricity board and in retirement worked part-time as a chimney sweep.

His killer is described as being around 5ft 10ins’, in his late teens or early 20s, of slim build and with a local accent.

He was wearing a dark blue coat and grey jogging bottoms.

Anyone with information can contact the special incident room in Coleraine police station on 028 7028 0987.

A quiet, friendly, wonderful man who cared for his wife and stood up to bullies

Everybody seemed to know, or wished they had known Bertie Acheson. A devoted husband, father, grandfather and brother, as well as a dear friend and much-loved neighbour, the brave 72-year-old was murdered as he tried to protect his frail wife Sheila and their Coleraine home from an intruder.

As a team of forensic officers trod carefully across Mr Acheson’s neatly manicured lawn searching for clues on Monday, a neighbour wiped away a tear and said: “Bertie would hate that. He kept his garden so neat and tidy. He would also hate all the fuss.”

Nodding towards a police cordon that looked alien against the backdrop of Mr Acheson’s smart, whitewashed bungalow, another neighbour said: “That’s how I first met Bertie. It was about 14 years ago and I must have been five or so, and used to cut across his grass to get to my friend’s house. One day he came out and shouted at me for being in his garden. I told him it was a shortcut to my friend’s house, and he smiled and told me that was OK, and that I could go that way whenever I wanted.”

The young woman added: “Ever since then I loved to call down to see him and say hello and to see his dog. He always looked out for me. I used to get bullied when I was younger but he would come out and tell the other people to stop being so cheeky. I don’t think anybody would have a bad thing to say about Bertie.”

Mr Acheson, a former employee of the electricity board and a part-time chimney sweep, was the sole carer for Sheila (70), his wife of 44 years, who suffers from severe arthritis and uses a wheelchair. The couple were in bed when they were disturbed by the sound of an intruder who used a brick to smash his way into their Glenmore Gardens home through a back window at 1.30am on Monday.

Mr Acheson left the bedroom and confronted the burglar, who is believed to be a male in his late teens or earlier 20s.

It is suspected Mr Acheson may have died from a heart attack during the struggle.

After the pensioner collapsed the burglar went into the couple’s bedroom and attacked Mrs Acheson before he stole her purse and £375 in cash.

After the intruder left Mrs Acheson went to look for her husband, only to find him lying dead on the kitchen floor.

It is thought the intruder may have been cut or injured during the incident.

PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Ian Harrison appealed to the individual or to anyone who knows him to come forward.

He added: “This was a totally callous incident... the more callous thing about it is, after (the intruder) had been challenged he still proceeded to go into the bedroom where Mrs Acheson was. There is a significant degree of anger in the community today.”

Throughout Monday a team of officers and detectives swarmed the small cul-de-sac and nearby houses in a bid to quickly catch Mr Acheson’s killer, and also reassure the public.

An entrance at the side of the Achesons’ bungalow, where the intruder is believed to have gained his access to the property, was also cordoned off.

“Poor, poor Sheila. Her and Bertie lived for each other. She hasn’t been that well, she is in a wheelchair, and Bertie looked after her. He was always so neat and tidy and kept the house that way. Because Sheila had mobility difficulties Bertie did all the housework, all the washing and gardening. Every Friday he would take Sheila to the supermarket,” a neighbour said.

“They were quiet, but also very friendly. They were always so happy and always smiling. They also enjoyed a good time. They loved to go out to the Chinese restaurant on a Friday evening for a meal. They were good fun together. Bertie was always very witty. The last time I saw Bertie he was looking so happy walking up to the shop for his paper.” At a park, a short distance from Mr Acheson's home where he enjoyed strolling with his dog, a number of police officers appeared to be searching through a row of trees, perhaps for Mrs Acheson’s stolen purse.

“I can’t believe this has happened. I would have seen Mr Acheson out walking his dog. I didn’t know him very well, but from what I have heard about him today I wish I had taken the opportunity to know him better,” a local resident said.

Mr Acheson’s wife was on Monday being comforted by the couple’s daughter Sandra and the pensioner’s brother Mervyn.

They were too distraught to talk about his death, but one family member said: “My heart is breaking. Bertie was just a wonderful man.”

Monday morning’s tragedy comes at a time when public concern over attacks on the elderly is particularly high, following a number of high-profile cases.

According to PSNI statistics, there were 197 recorded burglaries or robberies of pensioners across Northern Ireland within the space of just two months earlier this year. The area with the highest number during January and February this year was Coleraine. Out of the 197 crimes recorded, just 18 have been detected.

After the death of Mr Acheson Chief Superintendent Alan Todd said he wanted to reassure the public that although such crimes are “very small in number”, the PSNI understands “the impact of such crimes on people’s fear of crime and their fear of becoming victims themselves”.

“It is for that reason that police officers and staff work tirelessly to tackle this type of crime and those responsible for it,” said Mr Todd.

He added: “This determination is reinforced by a dedicated policing operation ‘Operation Bullent' which seeks to deter those who would seek to commit such crimes and, where they do, to bring them before the courts.

“This constant effort on behalf of the Police Service has helped reduce crime across Northern Ireland to its lowest levels in many years.”

Incident illustrates the agony behind the statistics

By Adrian Rutherford

The murder of Bertie Acheson comes just days after the Belfast Telegraph revealed how four elderly people are the victims of burglaries or robberies every day in Northern Ireland.

Almost 3,000 offences were reported between January 2010 and February this year where the victim was aged 65 and over.

In the first two months of this year, 18 crimes against pensioners were reported in the Coleraine area. The figures were released by the PSNI following a Freedom of Information request by this newspaper. Some 1,391 incidents were reported in 2010, a further 1,389 in 2011, with 197 crimes in the first two months of this year.

But in the vast majority of cases police were unable to bring charges.

Just 170 of the 2,977 cases reported to police in the period resulted in someone being charged — one in every 18.

According to the figures, crimes against older people are most common in Newry and Mourne, Newtownabbey and Lisburn.

In January and February this year there were 16 incidents in the Newtownabbey area, with 13 in Newry and Mourne.

Patricia Donald, from Age Sector Platform, which lobbies for older people, said a higher conviction rate would act as a major deterrent and give reassurance to older people.

Paul Givan, who chairs the justice committee at Stormont, said the clear-up rate needed to improve. “The PSNI can give confidence to people by showing they are able to track down those who carried out these offences,” he said.

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