Elderly family fear violent gang of raiders will return to their farm
Four elderly siblings confronted by a gang of masked men at their isolated farmhouse say they are grateful to God they were not badly hurt during their ordeal.
James Sproule (88) was going about his daily business at the family farm on the outskirts of Clady, Co Tyrone, along with his brother Sam (75) shortly before 6pm on Monday while their sisters Ethna (76) and Kathleen (80) were inside the family home.
Out of nowhere a black car came up the laneway and four hooded men jumped out, wearing balaclavas to hide their faces.
The men shouted at James to stand against a wall and warned him not to move, knocking him and Sam to the ground before lifting a grape - a four-pronged farm tool like a pitchfork - and going into the house. Oblivious to what had just happened in the farmyard, Ethna and Kathleen were upstairs where they came face to face with one of the gang wielding the grape.
He held it above Kathleen -who has suffered ill health recently - and warned her not to move, demanding to know where their money was.
The men were in the house for no more than 10 or 15 minutes, but Kathleen said it felt like a lifetime to the family.
They watched helplessly as the gang ransacked their home upstairs and downstairs before making off with a few paltry pounds.
Still badly shaken by their terrible ordeal, the siblings - who sadly laid their brother to rest just five weeks ago - say they fear the gang will come back.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Ethna said: "It was awful, they seemed so angry.
"They shouted at me: 'Where's the money, where's the money', and when I stood up they shoved me hard and I landed on the floor. It was very frightening.
"I told them it was downstairs because I didn't want them upstairs.
"Kathleen hasn't been well and I just wanted them away.
"They wrecked downstairs too, threw cushions onto the floor and even emptied the tea caddy on to the floor.
"I managed to get downstairs and went outside and rang the police. My mobile phone was in my cardigan pocket so I just dialled 999 and told the police they were in the house."
James was yesterday getting ready to go back out to the yard where Sam was back feeding the animals and getting on with the day-to-day running of the family farm.
James added: "This farm has been in our family since the 17th century.
"We were all born and reared here, same as our parents and our grandparents, but this is the first time anything like this has ever happened.
"We can only be grateful to God that they left when they did and that they didn't hurt any of us too bad.
"The police have been very good and hopefully they will catch the boys that did it. You wouldn't want them to come back."
A steady stream of relatives and friends have been calling to the house wishing them well and checking if they need anything.
Detective Sergeant Brian Reid appealed for anyone with information to come forward.
He said: "The intruders were all dressed in black and wore balaclavas. They made off with a small amount of cash in a black car in the direction of Clady. The four elderly persons have been left badly shaken by this ordeal."
He said anyone who noticed suspicious activity or a black car in the Tullymoan Road area should contact the CID in Strabane on the 101 number or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.