Missed chance on elderly crime

Mandatory minimum sentences for attacks on the elderly were blocked in the Assembly
Mandatory minimum sentences for attacks on the elderly were blocked in the Assembly

I am incensed by the way Sinn Fein, the SDLP, Alliance and NI21 have joined forces to block any chance of a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years imprisonment for those who attack the elderly being implemented in Northern Ireland.

I feel that introducing such legislation would have sent a very clear message out that despicable criminals who attack older people would be firmly dealt with.

Mandatory sentencing would have also helped to address the problem of sentencing disparity and unduly lenient sentences.

By passing this amendment to the Justice Bill clear reassurances could have been given to our elderly that violent crimes carried out against them would not be tolerated in any shape or form.

It is hard for me to understand why some parties have decided to block this amendment because in the Programme for Government indications were given that more needed to be done to protect our elderly.

On top of this, an Assembly motion was passed in November 2011 calling for tougher sentences for those who attack the elderly.

Crimes carried out against older people in our society should not be taken lightly. In 2013 police investigated almost 4,800 attacks on people aged 65 and over. Shockingly only four per cent of these incidents resulted in someone being charged.

More must be done to ensure that those who carry out attacks against the elderly are first caught by the police and then brought before the judiciary.

As a political representative I am well aware of how crimes against the elderly have scarred our community. Within my own constituency of Upper Bann numerous disgusting attacks have been conducted against older people in recent years.

Each time I hear news of an attack on an elderly person I am enraged and so is the wider community. A very strong feeling exists broadly in our society that more needs to be done to clamp down and do all that is possible to eradicate heinous acts of violence against our elderly.

Some may have criticised the amendment that my party colleagues brought forward as inflexible. However, there were mechanisms within the amendment to give the courts flexibility in exceptional cases. I therefore do not accept this criticism.

It was time that members of other parties in the Assembly faced reality and recognised that this amendment on mandatory minimum sentencing for those who carry out a violent offence against the elderly was focused on protecting elderly people who have supported and provided for us over the years.

As legislators I feel we have a solemn duty to provide support for the elderly and by passing this amendment we would have went a long way in doing so.

Although the amendment was defeated, I and party colleagues will not be deterred. We will continue to be committed advocates and a strong voice for our elderly.

Hopefully others will soon realise the importance of taking tougher action against those who attack older people because if we do not I fear that the situation may only get worse.

Sydney Anderson

DUP MLA, Upper Bann