A Belfast man who broke into the home of a deaf and blind 91-year old and who robbed the pensioner as he slept was handed a three-year sentence on Friday.
Jailing Gerard Patrick Skelly, Judge Alistair Devlin told the 38-year old he was a ”determined and dogged serial offender” whose actions left the vulnerable and disabled victim “absolutely terrified.”
Skelly, from Norglen Drive, was informed he will serve half his sentence in prison, with the remaining 18 months on supervised licence upon his release.
Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard Skelly had 210 previous offences, prompting Judge Devlin to brand his criminal record “appalling.”
Prior to sentencing, Judge Devlin was told by Crown barrister Rosemary Walsh that Skelly admitted five charges arising from two burglaries in Ballynahinch, which occurred in the early hours of July 23 last year.
At around 1.30am, a man living in the Ashburn area of the Co Down town was watching TV when he heard his dog barking. He went outside to investigate and when he returned to his property, he noticed a bicycle had been taken from his garage.
Around an hour and a half later, the Oakland Grove home of a 91-year old was broken into. Ms Walsh said the elderly resident woke up after feeling his bed vibrate and he sensed there was someone in his room. He tried to find a talking watch that he kept on a bedside cabinet, which was missing.
The pensioner got out of bed and kicked a box on his bedroom floor that hadn’t been there when he went to bed. He then contacted police and informed them he thought he’d been burgled. Several items were stolen by Skelly including three talking watches, a wallet, jewellery and three bottles of whiskey as well as credit cards and cash.
Police were alerted to the Ballynahinch break-ins, and at around 7.40am that morning, officers approached a Ford Mondeo which was stationery but with its engine running close to Skelly’s west Belfast home.
Skelly was in the driver’s seat and appeared to be drunk, and when police approached the car Skelly was “not responsive” to their questions. The car was searched and several items that had been stolen from the two houses hours before where found in the vehicle, including the bicycle.
Ms Walsh said that during the search, police also recovered a red-handled knife and were subjected to verbal abuse by Skelly. He also spat at officers and refused to give a blood sample for analysis.
During police interviews, Skelly denied the break-ins and continued to verbally abuse officers. At one stage, he told police “I would love to help you out, but I just don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Skelly was forensically linked to one of the burglaries via his footwear, and he subsequently admitted five charges including burglary and possessing of a knife in a public place.
Defence barrister Michael Boyd said that whilst it was accepted that the burglaries - particularly the one involving the 91-year old - were serious, he said there were no threats issued or violence used.
Saying last July’s offences were committed during a “chaotic” period in Skelly’s life when he was abusing drink and drugs, Mr Boyd said: “My client knows he is very long in the tooth for this behaviour. His 40th birthday is approaching, and he is aware it’s about time this sort of behaviour is consigned to the past.”
Mr Boyd also said that Skelly recognises that if he doesn’t stop offending, he will “spent most of the rest of his life in prison”.
Sentencing Skelly, he was told by Judge Devlin that one of his victims was a “particularly vulnerable elderly gentleman” which would have left him “absolutely terrified.”
As well as being sent to prison, Skelly was banned from driving for five years as he came before the court with what Judge Devlin called a “quite staggering record of 34 previous convictions for no insurance.”