Editor's Viewpoint: We must all do our bit to protect the elderly
The death of retired teacher May Stevens in her home after a number of people broke into the north Belfast property will again set alarm bells ringing among older people in the province.
This is the third high-profile case of death or injury following intruders breaking into domestic properties in the province in little over a month.
In the first, an 83-year-old woman was critically injured when she fell from an upstairs window during a burglary at her home in Aughnacloy.
Then, at the end of January, retired teacher Robert Flowerday was found dead in his home in Crumlin after a member of the public contacted police. A man has been charged with Mr Flowerday's murder.
We all have the image of our home being, if not our castle, at least a place where we can feel safe. Cases like these, which police will stress are relatively rare, introduce fear into the minds of many, especially older people and those who live alone.
But this most recent case had a chilling new dimension. Mrs Stevens' husband was with her when the house was broken into, and articles removed and her car stolen. Those responsible obviously were not deterred by the fact that they might be confronted by more than one person.
There is an impression that older people are deliberately targeted by thieves because they are easier to overcome, but also because they may have more valuables in their homes.
Research conducted last year showed that 94% of people in the province feel that those who are convicted of abusing elderly people should face tougher sentences.
The call for longer prison terms stem from the fact that the elderly are deliberately targeted because they are vulnerable. Currently, they receive no special statutory protection in criminal law.
The problem of course is that only a small proportion of cases of attacks on the elderly get to court. In these recent cases, there have been repeated complaints that budget cuts have led to police being less visible on the streets and byways of the province. A large number of police stations have been shut or operate only on a part-time basis, which can increase the time taken to respond to calls for help.
There is no doubt that police face many challenges in fighting crime of all sorts due to the increased pressures on a reduced force. That is why they need all the information possible from the public to apprehend those responsible.