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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Sean Murphy

Sligo attack victim Tom Niland sent cards in hospital as he faces battle for survival with family 'helpless'

Dozens of bighearted well-wishers have sent prayer messages, Mass cards, and religious medals to the intensive care room of retired farmer Tom Niland.

Attack victim Tom, 73, is in a coma, battling for survival on a ventilator, in Sligo University Hospital following a crime that stunned the country.

He was watching TV at home in rural Skreen, Co Sligo, on January 18 when three masked thugs burst in around 7pm, stole a few hundred euro, and left him for dead – sparking an ongoing Garda manhunt.

Tom’s cousin Michael Walsh has kept a daily vigil by his hospital bed and has revealed how he has read the cards that have come from everywhere in Ireland.

Michael also revealed that Tom may have been targeted for attack after withdrawing money from a credit union.

He said people have been left “shocked” and “terrified” by Tom’s savage burglary and that they now fear who will be the next victim in Ireland.

Gardai at the home of a man in his 70s, in Skreen, Co. Sligo, who was badly beaten and hospitalised as a result. (James Connolly)

He also stated his own fears that there is “no real hope” for Tom and said: “We feel helpless, but that’s the situation that we’ve been put in.

“Tom’s condition is fluctuating. There’s no real hope at the moment.

“People have been calling and texting the family with kind words, prayers, Mass cards and when I was in hospital, I saw a stack of cards from people from all over the country.

“I’d like to thank them, it means an awful lot. We read the cards out to him, but we don’t know if he can hear us.

“People have also sent medals and other religious objects, which we place beside his bed.”

He added: “People were shocked by the attack. They are terrified. We see that in the calls we get from people.”

Michael continued: “It’s not just about now, but also the next person, and there will be a next person because there’s nothing that can be done about these people.

“They are predators on society. People are asking, ‘How could they do that?’ But these people don’t think like us.

“People are frightened because they see that nothing is changing.”

He further added: “People from all over have been offering to search the area. They want to help.

“Anyone who knows Tom are in an awful state, but even people who don’t know Tom also want to do something to help.”

Michael said the savage violence inflicted on Tom, such as jumping on his head to make it swell to a “grotesque” double size and put him on the “brink of death” made him sick.

He asked: “How did they think they would not kill him with that brutality?”

He said on Wednesday: “He was immediately hit in the face and it continued and continued.

“He went down and it continued. When they disabled him, they still continued. You would not do it to an animal.

“It was a frenzied attack, absolutely disgusting what they did to poor Tom.”

Michael said he has always treated Tom, who is an only child and a bachelor, like a brother and fears that the family is now left “hoping for a miracle”.

Amid speculation that Tom was targeted after going to the Credit Union, Michael said: “We weren’t aware that he had a Credit Union account, maybe he was targeted.

“They may have spotted him there and followed him. They were obviously ready to do what they did. They arrived with the masks on.

“And all for a couple of hundred Euro. It could be €600, €700, €800. We don’t know.”

Tom injuries included the serious head injury, a broken eye socket, smashed up to eight ribs, soft tissue damage, and other injuries to his upper body.

The attackers tied his shoelaces together – but he still managed to crawl down the several metres, around 16ft, of his driveway to the roadway outside his house to raise the alarm.

Michael said: “When people went over to him on the road, they could barely recognise him and he could barely talk.

“It was amazing that he was able to do that.”

Tom was able to give gardai crucial information before his condition deteriorated and he was put on life support.

Tom’s wallet was found near Lough Easkey, which Michael said is around seven miles from Tom’s house.

It was hoped that additional searches would find Tom’s stolen mobile phone and could help to find his attackers.

But the family has been advised that data on the device may be problematic as evidence due to recent proceedings at the EU Court of Justice, following appeals by convicted murderer Graham Dwyer.

Dwyer, who pleaded not guilty, was a married 42-year-old architect when he was sentenced in 2015 to life behind bars for murdering childcare worker Elaine O’Hara after mobile phone data was used in his prosecution.

Dwyer launched a legal challenge to question the retention and accessing of his mobile phone data, which resulted in a 2018 ruling by Ireland’s High Court that legislation which allowed mobile phone data to be retained and accessed as part of criminal investigations was actually in breach of EU law.

The case is now under review by the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU), with a ruling not expected until later this year.

Michael said: “Tom’s phone was an android. If they could locate his phone, somewhere that it last pinged off a transmitter, they could also get a ping from the culprits who did this.”

During a recent community meeting, organised searches were discussed and a financial reward was also mentioned.

Michael said: “The guards don’t want people to some places at the moment in case they have to re-visit those areas.”

He added: “I would a reward that, but the guards want it to be controlled because, if you offer money, you don’t know who’s going to come forward or what information they’d give you.

“There would have to be conditions, but we do want people to come forward.”

Other evidence being explored includes DNA from the scene “and under Tom’s fingernails”, according to Michael.

While gardai have gathered up a large amount of CCTV footage, no arrests have been made.

The family appealed to the attackers to hand themselves in and urged people to come forward information with information for Tom.

Michael said: “Tom is a very quiet and shy man. He would be the perfect example of a gentle giant.”

He added: “We are very close. See Tom has no siblings. He has no brothers or sisters, so we interacted with him on nearly the same level. That’s how we regard him.”

Gardai are appealing to every person who was driving along the N59 in the Skreen area on January 18 between 4pm and 8pm, and who may have dashcam or any other video footage, to contact them.

Anyone with information can contact Sligo Garda Station on 071 915 7000, the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111 or any Garda station.

Garda Superintendent Mandy Gaynor vowed: “No stone will be left unturned.”

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