Masked gang spreading fear in south Down

Trevor Highland and Sam McCracken
Trevor Highland and Sam McCracken

The south Down community has spoken of its fears of becoming victims of burglary after police said three recent incidents may be linked to a single masked gang.

In each case five masked men were involved. In two cases one was armed with a screwdriver, but in the most recent it was a handgun.

A man and a woman were tied up by a gang during a break-in at a house on the Castlevennon Road, Banbridge, shortly after 10pm on Sunday. The gang hit the householder with the gun and left with a sum of money.

The second case was in the Drumgooland Road area of Castlewellan around 7.40pm on Monday, January 20. Two men stayed with the householders, aged 76 and 75, while the other three searched the house. They left empty-handed.

Shortly afterwards on the same evening at Loughside Drive, Ballynahinch, the suspected gang kept an 80-year-old woman, a 76-year-old man and two men in their 40s captive while the others searched the house, making off with a sum of cash.

Yesterday the News Letter met the man who was hit with a gun during the burglary on Sunday at Banbridge. However, he declined to make any comment.

But neighbour and farmer Sam McCracken said it was getting “too close for comfort”. He added: “In recent times there have been two or three burglaries in this area. They stole a heap of money and also two quad bikes in the past few months. We just wonder who is going to be next.”

His neighbour Trevor Highland, aged 69, added: “We have got to get the community involved. The elderly should be provided with panic buttons around their necks which would alert neighbours.”

They had noted suspicious white vans in the area.

Another neighbour, Beenie McCauley, was burgled just over a year ago. “I came back home about 2.30pm and thought my husband was at home,” she said. “All the kitchen cupboard doors were open and as I walked down the hallway, all the clothes were pulled out of the cupboards.

“I felt scared, afraid. It left me afraid to go into my own house. I got to be very weepy afterwards. They don’t realise the impact this has on people. They did it to another house the same day, on up the road.”

John McGrath suffered a burglary four years ago.

“My house was getting renovated and they broke in through the back door,” he said. “They took the cooker and hobs and electric tools.

“It left me feeling sick.”

None of the people who spoke to the News Letter said the burglars in their cases were ever caught.

Also see:

Burglary prevention

l Always lock outside doors and close the windows even if you are going out for a short time.

l Do not give keys to people you do not know well.

l Do not leave spare keys in obvious places, eg under doormats.

l Keep valuables out of sight.

l Use a door-viewer if possible.

l If there is a door chain, use it.

l Check callers’ identities with Quick Check freephone

0800 013 2290.

l If in any doubt, contact a family member, friend or the police immediately and do not open door.

(SOURCE: Age NI/ age sector platform)