A frail pensioner has spoken of his trauma after machete-wielding intruders broke in to his home, attacked him and tied him up.
George Burns (85) says he has been left too terrified to return to his rural home after the men smashed through the door of the house on the Aughnacloy Road in Ballela, near Banbridge.
The elderly man’s hands were bound, he was pushed face-down onto the floor and held at knife-point by one man. Meanwhile, his accomplice searched the two-bedroom house where their victim lived alone, looking for cash.
The clearly distraught victim told the Belfast Telegraph he was left with bruising up to his elbows after the robbers tied him up and beat him.
“I told them they were going to break my arm but they didn't listen,” said the widower.
“The only thing they said to me was, ‘where's the money?’ ‘I have no money’, I said.”
Mr Burns said the two men were strangers who looked to be in their 40s. They made off with £9,000 in cash and three guns.
He has been living alone since his wife Cathleen died six years ago, and enjoyed a independent lifestyle.
But now he is too scared to return to living alone.
“I was happy living on my own until that happened,” said the grandfather, who used to work for the electricity board.
“Now I wouldn't have the heart to go down there and go to bed knowing those kind of brutes were around,” he added.
The pensioner was wearing a personal alarm under his clothes which was activated when the intruders triggered the button while pushing him to the floor.
His daughter Pauline was contacted first, and she then rang her brother Seamus, who rushed to the scene.
“I couldn't believe it when I got the call,” said Seamus.
“You never think anything like this will happen to your own family. To see the whole scene — police cars, the ambulance, flashing blue lights — outside my father's house. It was awful.”
George's family have managed to work out a time line of Monday night’s attack thanks to Home Help records and phone call times.
“The whole thing happened in eight minutes”, said Seamus (57), a technician in St Malachy's school in Castlewellan.
“The home help wrote in their book that they left the house at 8.35pm. Then Pauline got the call at 8.43pm. Somebody must have been watching.”
The worried son continued: “My father’s house was kitted out with sensor lights and an alarm, he also had the personal alarm. I think somebody must have gone around the back first and turned off the sensor light. They wouldn't have broken the window beside the door in bright light.”
Seamus's wife Christine, who is a nurse, said: “They took £9,000 and three guns from the gun cabinet. George would never go to the bank. The bottom of his wardrobe was the only place that was ransacked. They didn't make a mess in the house or even take the car.”
She added: “He was just numb with shock last night. He was in the hospital in Craigavon until 3am and he hasn't had any sleep so I don't think the full impact has hit him yet.”
Seamus said he was nervous at the thought of his father living alone again: “He has always insisted on his independence but I don't know after this.
“The neighbours have been really frightened too, a lot of them are elderly and it's very isolated.”
George stayed in his son's home in Castlewellan last night, surrounded by family members.
“He has lived in that house for as long as I can remember,” said his granddaughter Aileen (21). “He didn't sleep (after the attack), he was very shaken.”
Coleen Burns (23), another of George's eight grandchildren, said: “He loves his independence, he still drives and everything.
“He has five great-grandkids. He loves being around his family. We just can't believe this has happened to him,” she added.
Local SDLP councillor Seamus Doyle said: “I've known George all my life, he's hugely popular in the community. For somebody to be tied up like this in the privacy of their own home is just disgusting. It's a quiet law-abiding area and for something like this to happen here is devastating. I really hope somebody is brought to book.”
Police are appealing for information and can be contacted on 0845 600 8000.
The attack on George Burns is just one of many crimes against pensioners this year.