Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Attacks on elderly just beggar belief

Attacks on the elderly are among the most despicable crimes in modern society. As this newspaper has revealed in the past - and does so again today - these are not isolated assaults. Since the start of 2010 almost 3,000 people aged 65 and over have been the victims of burglars and thieves.

This smacks of a deliberate policy of targeting the most vulnerable in society. They are picked on because they offer little resistance and may keep money in their homes unlike younger people who carry credit or bank cards.

But it is not just robbery which is the motive in some instances. Today we report on how arsonists poured flammable liquid through the front door of the home of a frail 88-year-old woman. Fortunately she was alerted to the danger by a smoke alarm and managed to douse the flames, otherwise she could have been badly injured or even killed.

It was an attack which beggars belief. Those who carried it out must have known the age of the occupant and the likely consequences of their actions.

Of course most people still retain decency and the woman's family and neighbours of other elderly people who have been attacked or robbed have rallied round to lend their support.

They remind us that elderly people deserve respect and support within their communities and we should all keep a watchful eye on neighbours of advanced years.

But the agents of law and order, the police and the courts, can also do more to help. Only 170 of the 3,000 cases referred to above have resulted in someone being charged. That is a pitiful detection rate, even given the difficulties involved in tracking down offenders. And there is a public perception that cases which do come to court are not dealt with severely enough.

The justice system will argue that every case is determined on its individual facts and a range of mitigating factors have to be taken into account.

So too, should one overriding factor - these are crimes against people least able to protect themselves and are deserving of a deterrent sentence.

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