Call for burglars of elderly people to get seven years in prison

Attacks on the elderly are back in the spotlight after, among others, the burglary of 91-year-old Lisburn woman Lily O'Hara's life savings earlier this week
Attacks on the elderly are back in the spotlight after, among others, the burglary of 91-year-old Lisburn woman Lily O'Hara's life savings earlier this week

A renewed call has been made in Westminster for burglars who target pensioners to get minimum sentences of at least seven years in jail.

However the Department of Justice responded that judges should retain discretion on a case-by-case basis.

In Parliament on Wednesday DUP MP William McCrea asked Northern Ireland Office Under Secretary of State Dr Andrew Murrison to introduce mandatory sentencing.

He asked if Dr Murrison accepts that there are those “who violate the sanctity of the homes of elderly people living in our community, threatening and terrorising them?”

The DUP MP further pressed: “Should not those criminals get custodial sentences of at least seven years, irrespective of how little or how much they actually steal through their criminal activity?”

Mr McCrea said that PSNI figures how there were 4,723 elderly victims of crime in the 12 months to February – an average of around 13 every day.

These included injuries, robberies, burglary and violence without injury.

“Only one in 11 of the crimes results in an arrest and just one in 25 in someone being charged,” the MP said.

Dr Murrison replied: “I will not be drawn on matters that are outside my sphere of competence, and I would certainly defer to the Department of Justice for action on many of the issues that the Honourable Gentleman raises.”

However, the Department of Justice rejected the DUP call for mandatory sentences.

“Under the current legislative framework, custodial offences are available to the judiciary for those convicted of serious crime,” a spokesman said.

“Robbery and aggravated burglary can currently attract sentences of life.

“Sentencing decisions within the legislative framework are a matter for the judiciary, taking account of all the factors in an individual case.

“Judges are guided by sentencing guidelines which indicate that the courts should treat the age or vulnerability of the victim as an aggravating factor when assessing the appropriate sentence to be imposed.

“On the issue of mandatory minimum prison sentences for attacks against the elderly, the minister has argued that the discretion of the judiciary should be maintained so that decisions reflect the individual circumstances of each case.”

The Lord Chief Justice told the News Letter that it is “a matter for the Assembly”, while the Commissioner for Older People said it would be “a matter for the judiciary”.