West Belfast rallies against thugs who attacked pensioners in spate of violent robberies
'The attack on 76-year-old Maureen Shepherd was the last straw'
Several hundred people have attended rally in Albert Street, west Belfast following attacks on vulnerable older people in the community.
Last week 76-year-old Maureen Shepherd was attacked near Ardmoulin Avenue as she got off a bus.
Ms Shepherd was left with a broken jaw, cheekbone, nose and eye socket and serious facial bruising.
Police said: "The next thing she remembers is being on the ground and an unknown male standing over her. A Nokia phone and money (Euros) was stolen."
Gerard Fitzpatrick, a community activist who helped organise Wednesday night's event, said the rally is to show "the tiny minority behind the attacks that people are prepared to stand up to them".
Money is also being raised so that vulnerable people can purchase panic alarms and other items such as front door chains and bolts.
Mr Fitzpatrick said there is anger in west Belfast about what has happened. "The attack on Maureen Shepherd was the last straw," he said.
During the rally Mr Fitzpatrick read a message from Ms Shepherd to the crowd.
"I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to everyone who attended this evening it means a great deal to see the amount of support from both sides of the community.
"I am overwhelmed by the messages, cards, presents and flowers from everyone. I would like to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart and can only pray that this attack will be the last.
"I hope that all the old and the vulnerable in our areas will be safe."
Ms Shepherd was returning from a trip to the hairdressers when she was attacked last Friday at around 7.30pm. She said she "went out like a light" after being hit.
When she came round her attacker was standing over her.
"I thought he was helping me, I said ‘will you help me son?’. I thought he was going to help me. I tried to get up and I looked and he was over me and he took my money out of the purse and just threw the purse.”
Ms Shepherd said she is now terrified of going out.
She told UTV: "Scumbag. He wouldn’t like his own mother to be left like this. I’ll never go out again, never. My nerves are away. I feel terribly scared. Even opening the door now, I’ll be afraid."
Police said the attacker is described as being of thin build, about 5'11' tall and was wearing a grey hooded top and black scarf around his face.
A fortnight ago, Florence Slane (78) was attacked as she returned home from a pensioners' day out at Devenish Court. Ms Slane suffered a fractured wrist.
In other crimes in the area, youths have forced entry to homes and smashed car windows.
The PSNI have said that they are stepping up patrols in the area.
Chief Inspector Anthony McNally said: "These are some of the most vulnerable people in our society and that’s nothing any of us want to see. So, it’s very much about making sure that we have effective investigations and reassure the public.
"We saw the terrible visible injuries that were inflicted upon Maureen in the last few days and that’s abhorrent and nobody wants to see that so we will carry out investigations to the highest level we possibly can."
Sinn Fein MLA Fra McCann said people need to stand together to ensure that these attacks become a thing of the past.