Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

PSNI must protect our pensioners

The scale of the attacks on pensioners in Northern Ireland is truly shocking. On average a dozen people aged 65-plus are victims of crime every day. These include sex attacks, robberies, the use of violence and simple burglaries.

What is obvious from the number of incidents reported annually is that the thugs deliberately target the elderly. These are cowardly crimes carried out by thugs who know they will encounter little resistance.

Yet, often they are not just content with frightening the elderly home owners.

They frequently subject them to quite shocking levels of violence. Another motivation may well be the perception that elderly people often keep their savings in their homes making them a prime target.

One thing that the thugs do not have to fear is arrest. Only 4% of cases resulted in anyone being charged in the last year. That is a very worrying statistic.

The Chief Constable Matt Baggott came to Northern Ireland pledging to put increased emphasis on community policing, and while the PSNI has been under considerable pressure from dissident republican attacks and policing flag protests and marches, the clear up rate for attacks on the elderly is inexcusably low.

There are calls for the courts to take a much tougher line with those who attack the elderly. One example is to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for those found guilty of crimes against pensioners. That, argue its proponents, would act as a deterrent. But it would only deter criminals if they thought there was a real chance of being caught and the statistics suggest that is not the case.

What needs to happen is devoting more police resources to tackling these crimes. Even simple burglaries are very distressing to elderly people, many of whom live alone and fear their home being violated again.

They need to be reassured that the police are making a real effort to catch the criminals and that society in general abhors what is happening to them. These are the people who have built the community the rest of us enjoy and we should repay them by offering them some protection.

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