Rural community lives in fear as masked gang targets the vulnerable
A spate of armed robberies carried out by masked men within a 20-mile radius has struck fear in the rural community in which victims were targeted.
Five masked men tied up a man and woman, striking him in the head with a handgun, during the latest incident.
The couple's frightening ordeal began at 10pm on Sunday after the masked gang forced their way into their property at Castlevennon Road, Banbridge.
Both victims had to be taken to hospital suffering from shock. The gang made off with a sum of cash.
It was the third such incident within a 20-mile radius in less than a week.
It followed two similar attacks during which a masked gang of five targeted vulnerable homeowners, prompting fears the thugs are actively targeting those they know to keep cash in their properties.
Police said they are following "all lines of inquiry" in relation to concerns of an organised criminal gang operating in Co Down.
On Monday of last week, five men, one armed with a screwdriver, forced their way into the property of 76-year-old Patsy Boyle and his wife Bridget (80) in Ballynahinch, claiming to be from the LVF.
Two of the couple's sons – aged in their 40s – were also in the house at the time, and were held captive in a bedroom with their parents while the thieves ransacked the house.
As they made off with almost £3,000, one brazenly told their victims they were "away to count all this money".
A short time earlier, a gang matching the same description struck less than nine miles away.
A 76-year-old woman and a 75-year-old man in the Drumgooland Road area of Castlewellan were the victims. Two men stayed with the elderly couple in the living-room while the other three searched the house. They left empty-handed.
The spate of incidents in the area has caused widespread fear, according to a local councillor.
Banbridge DUP representative David Herron urged residents to be extra vigilant in light of the attacks.
"This would appear to be the work of an organised gang. They seem to be watching for people with money in their homes," he said. "It is vital people are careful, don't answer their door to strangers at night and keep an eye out for suspicious vehicles.
"These people must be caught and brought before the courts."
SDLP Ballynahinch councillor Ann Marie McAleenan described the incidents as "disturbing".
A police spokesman said investigations into Sunday's incident are at an early stage, but all lines of inquiry are being followed to establish if the robberies are linked.
"Detectives would ask anyone who may have noticed any suspicious activity in this area or anyone who has information to contact them at Banbridge on 0845 600 8000," he added.
STORY SO FAR
A couple were tied up by a masked gang at their Banbridge home on Sunday night.
A man was struck on the head by a gun during the attack.
Days earlier, there were two similar incidents at the homes of elderly people in Ballynahinch, within a 20-mile radius.