Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Get tough on thugs who target elderly

The death of 72-year-old Bertie Acheson who died after he confronted an intruder in his Coleraine home last week highlighted the plight of elderly people who are deliberately targeted by thieves.

It is reassuring to know that a specialist team of PSNI officers has been established to track down the travelling gangs responsible for such attacks and the man heading the operation, Chief Superintendent Alan Todd, has given a frank interview to this newspaper.

He showed courage in putting himself forward as the police record on tackling these crimes has been poor. The clearance rate for burglaries - just 88 out of 1,389 last year - is alarmingly low and even when those responsible are caught, the sentences imposed can be too low to act as a deterrent.

Chief Superintendent Todd evidently shares the public's frustration on the issue.

He would like stiffer sentences for those who attack the elderly and the granting of bail during remand also imposes difficulties for the police who have to continually check that suspects are observing curfews.

Assembly members recently called for longer jail terms for those found guilty of assaults on the elderly, although the Justice Department seems less enthusiastic on the idea.

It is alarming to realise that gangs of thieves are roaming the province deliberately picking out vulnerable pensioners to attack and rob them. That is a despicable crime and anyone with any suspicions of who is behind burglaries or robberies should give the police every scrap of information.

It is difficult to obtain convictions in many cases because the crimes are committed at night against people who don't always make the best witnesses, so any community assistance is vital.

The greatest deterrent against the thieves is either the likelihood of being caught or of being sent to jail for a lengthy period. Detection is open to many variables, but deterrent sentences for those who assault or deliberately target elderly people can, and should, be put on the statute books as soon as possible by the Assembly. That will win the support of both police and the public.

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