An elderly Randalstown couple have expressed disappointment with the Assembly for deciding against mandatory sentences for criminals who attack pensioners.
Wilson and Evelyn Clyde from Groggan near Randalstown, aged 81 and 69, were in their home in 2013 when two burglars broke in at 1.30am.
The traumatic event has left Evelyn in particular still fearful when going to bed if she hears an unfamiliar noise around the house.
On Monday the Assembly voted down a DUP amendment to the Justice Bill which would have meant attacks against the elderly would have carried a mandatory seven-year sentence.
The amendment contained a clause which would have allowed for exceptional circumstances where a lesser sentence may have been imposed. An explanation of the rationale for the lesser sentence would have been required in open court.
However, the DUP failed to convince the nationalist MLAs, Alliance and the TUV and their amendment was defeated by 46 votes to 41.
But Mr Clyde disagreed with those who opposed the measure.
“They had a hatchet and a pole,” said Mr Clyde, who served as an MLA for the DUP until 2007. “They took Evelyn’s car and wrecked it.
“One of them had just been out on licence. They had been well known for break-ins.
“They told us to get back into the bedroom and stay there. I know I could not do anything, I had just had a triple bypass.
“They had their jackets up around their noses and caps pulled down over their heads. All we could see were their eyes.”
He added: “I think we should have mandatory sentences because if they get a pensioner on their own and threaten them, even if they don’t touch them it leaves them very scared. It can affect them for years.”
He gave his full backing to the DUP amendment.
“Would you show leniency to someone like that? I would say the DUP were right. That is my personal view after the experience we had.
“The oldest boy got out of jail and was straight back in again.”
It is understood his accomplice got six months and served three.
The pair, from Antrim, were aged 19 and 17 at the time.
“Evelyn would be more nervous going to bed now. If she hears a noise at all she is worried. They broke into the conservatory and then broke the glass door with the hatchet.”
Linda Robinson, Age NI chief executive, said clearance rates for crimes against older people are lower than those against others.
“Age NI believes that action needs to focus on improving clearance rates for crimes against older people in the first instance and ensure that those who commit crimes are brought before the courts,” she said.
A recent analysis by the Commissioner for Older People found PSNI clearance rates for crimes against those over 60 was only 9.09 per cent compared to 17 per cent for similar crimes for those under the age of 60. “If we truly wish to create communities where older people can feel safe, secure and included, action on improving these clearance rates is needed.”
The Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Claire Keatinge, said she takes no position on mandatory sentences for those who attack the elderly.
“Sentencing those who commit crimes against older people, and indeed any age group, must take into account the devastating impact that crime can have on the victim and their family,” she said.
“It is essential that a strong message is sent out to offenders and would-be offenders that those who commit crimes against older people will be brought to justice, and sentencing should serve a deterrent to offenders.
“The issue of mandatory sentencing, however, remains a matter for legislators and the judiciary.”
Long term campaigner for tougher sentences, DUP North Antrim MP Ian Paisley said: “Attacking an elderly person is one of the most depraved and sickening acts of violence anyone can do. Someone who attacks an older person is attacking the vulnerable. Indeed, in many cases of robberies the frailty of the older person is exploited and their unfortunate trust of a stranger is betrayed. I will always campaign for anyone convicted for attacking an older person to go to jail for a long time. They are a blight on society and jail is the right place for them.
“There are numerous examples where older people have been attacked, the perpetrator caught and convicted but the sentence is weak if even custodial. That needs to change. People need to know that if they use violence against the elderly then they will face a lengthy spell in jail.”