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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Trevor Quinn

Sligo pensioner fighting for life after gang in balaclavas burst into home in brutal burglary

The cousin of a critically ill pensioner battered during a burglary has labelled his attackers “terrorists”.

Tom Niland, 73, was badly beaten by a gang of three balaclava-clad men who burst into his isolated home in Skreen, Co Sligo, at around 7pm on January 18.

The thugs beat him to a pulp before stealing a few hundred euro.

Tom, who is on life support, was left with a smashed eye socket and broken ribs, managed to crawl from his home after they fled and flag down a passing motorist and has remained in hospital since.

He was on a ventilator at Sligo University Hospital on Sunday night after his condition significantly deteriorated in recent days.

His cousin Michael Walsh told the Irish Mirror: “It’s not looking good at all. I’ve seen many injuries in hospitals but this was something else, I think they stamped on his head, the injuries are grotesque.

“Everyone called him a gentle giant, it’s shocking.

“Tom was exceptional and he’d do anything for anybody.

“Even though he was 73, if you knew him you wouldn’t think he was that and if you saw him out building a wall or cutting hedges or doing all kinds of physical work for people, he was so willing to help.”

Michael, who appealed to anybody with any information to contact gardai, said Tom was recently given a smartphone as a present but he did not know the brand or model.

He claimed legal barriers had prevented gardai from accessing Tom’s mobile phone data after a recent European Court of Justice ruling on a case taken by convicted murderer Graham Dwyer.

The court decreed that existing European law does not allow the general retention of mobile phone data, boosting Dwyer’s hopes of having his conviction overturned.

The Sligo man has met Garda investigators on several occasions and claimed they are being “frustrated by a stupid law”.

Michael, who also lives in Skreen, said: “I can’t see why this evidence can’t be used or can’t even be obtained or used for even location purposes.

“This is basically what’s happened in Tom’s case.

“Tom’s phone was stolen and it was part of the getaway that they took his phone so he couldn’t ring anybody. The guards were trying to locate his phone.

“They did find his wallet and another item belonging to Tom a good distance away, maybe five miles.

“But one of the problems is tracking people on mobile phones and the pings on transmitters, there are certain restrictions, the right to freedom and all of that.

“And approaches to try and get the information from the telecommunications on the person’s position and their whereabouts, it seems these things have been blocked, even in this case.

“I think most law-abiding people would not mind, we all want privacy but what are we prepared to give up.

“I think it’s an absolute scandal.” Michael, who said he believes a jail term of at least five years should be handed down for aggravated burglary, added: “That should be a minimum.

“We use the term terrorists when we’re talking about political situations but this is a terrorist attack on this area, that’s what I would I call it, nothing less.”

Independent Councillor Michael Clarke, who has also called for a minimum jail sentence of five years for aggravated burglars, said: “The people here are more than shocked, they’re outraged.

"There’s still a very nervous feeling for older people and especially those who live alone.”

Cllr Clarke, who praised the gardai for their investigation to date, added: “We know this is not an isolated incident, we know that in West Sligo there was a number of burglaries in the past month, maybe up to 15 different break-ins and it’s very widespread.”

Meanwhile, Fr Michael Gilroy, who prayed for Tom and his family with parishioners yesterday at St Adamnan’s Church, said: “Everybody that knows Tom is simply devastated at what has happened to him.

“It’s a lack of respect for human life when something like this occurs.”

Gardai are keen to talk to anyone who was in the Skreen or Dromard areas between 4pm and 8pm on January 18 or any motorists who travelled on the N59 between Sligo and Ballina.

Supt Mandy Gaynor added: “There are people out there who know who was involved in this serious assault on an elderly man in his home.

“Thomas Niland and his family deserve to have these criminals who carried out this heartless act brought to justice.”

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