Paul Williams: Winter's dark night provides ideal cover for thugs to prey on vulnerable older people

A Garda outside the home of Joseph Waters
A Garda outside the home of Joseph Waters
Paul Williams

Paul Williams

The murder of Rosie Hanrahan in Limerick and attack on Joseph Waters in Co Offaly are not connected but there are a number of factors common to both crimes.

The murder of Rosie Hanrahan in Limerick and attack on Joseph Waters in Co Offaly are not connected but there are a number of factors common to both crimes.

In both cases the victims could be classed as being among the most vulnerable in our society: both in their late 70s and living alone.

Ms Hanrahan (78), a widow, was physically frail, while Mr Waters (77), a bachelor, is visually impaired.

Both of these decent people made for the easiest of targets for the cowardly, predatory thugs who specialise in targeting the weakest.

Another commonality between these revolting crimes is that it is believed both victims had been under surveillance by their attackers; a fact which understandably has struck fear into the hearts of people living alone everywhere, both in rural or urban Ireland.

Gardaí in Limerick now believe that Ms Hanrahan and her terraced home in the Thomondgate area of the city were being watched. The brutal killing displays all the hallmarks of someone who panicked perhaps because the victim saw their face.

One can only imagine the sheer terror experienced by the defenceless widow in the last moments of a life that had, until that moment, been lived in peace and devout faith.

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Reports suggest that gardaí have obtained a considerable amount of detailed forensic evidence at the crime scene.

The only consolation now for Rosie's family, friends and neighbours is the fact that Limerick's detectives - who enjoy the highest serious crime-solving success rates in the country - will sooner or later catch these people and bring them to justice.

And on Monday night, while gardaí were still piecing together the evidence from this latest criminal outrage, Mr Waters escaped with his life after suffering a truly terrifying ordeal at the hands of brutes.

The visually-impaired farmer was in his rural bungalow near Durrow when his three attackers broke in through a rear window.

"We want money, we want money, we'll kill you, we'll kill you," the thugs shouted at their victim, according to Joseph's neighbour.

He was beaten to the ground and a member of the gang held a knife to Joseph's throat while his accomplices ransacked the rest of the house.

Eventually, the raiders left empty-handed and the elderly farmer, who has lived in the house since he was a child, somehow managed to make his way to a neighbour's home to raise the alarm.

There are chilling similarities to another attack which also took place in Co Offaly last November - leading some gardaí to suspect that the same gang was responsible.

Bachelor farmer Richie McKelvey (54) also lives alone in the family home with his loyal dog as his only companion in an isolated area, Glasderry beg, Brosna near Birr.

In the early hours of Saturday, November 4, a four-member gang smashed their way into the house and stormed into his bedroom: the victim was pulled from his bed and savagely beaten.

They also grabbed the dog and, according to locals, gave it an "unmerciful beating".

Senior gardaí will be at pains to point out that these two crimes do not constitute a crime epidemic - which they don't.

However, there is cause for grave concern that there is at least one extremely violent gang at large in the Midlands who have no compunction about using extreme violence.

The tragic truth is that there are several of these "travelling criminal gangs" operating throughout the country for whom winter's long dark nights provide the conditions for an ideal hunting season. They specialise in identifying and then targeting the most vulnerable people living in isolated places.

And that is why the State must, as a matter of priority, ensure that robust and well-resourced, long-term operations are put in place to tackle this particularly terrifying crime.

The people of rural Ireland do not care a damn about whether gardaí falsified breath tests: all they want to see are gardaí on the ground catching these dangerous Neanderthals.

Paul Williams co-presents the 'Breakfast Show' on Newstalk

Irish Independent

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