'Crime is destroying the community ... we feel so vulnerable'
Paul Williams reports from the quiet village where almost everyone has been the victim of crime, and hope of justice is fading fast
It was once a tranquil village on the old Cork to Dublin road, but now Littleton, Co Tipperary, has an unwanted tag as a rural crime blackspot.
Over the past three years practically every business premises and farmhouse within a 15km radius of Littleton has been burgled - with many being hit on multiple occasions.
Local business people, farmers and community workers who catalogued more than 50 incidents in this area in the past 12 months say they have lost faith in the gardaí to prevent the escalating crime wave.
The village, 8km from Thurles, has been besieged by travelling criminal gangs since it was bypassed by the M8.
The group who contacted the Irish Independent to highlight their frustration blame inadequate resources and a lack of support for the village's sole garda for the majority of the robberies remaining unsolved.
They also denounced as "meaningless" the generic crime victim letters they receive from the gardaí following each incident, which they intend to post to the Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald in a mark of protest.
"The level of crime has increased so much in the last number of years in this area that not a day goes by that you don't hear of someone being robbed either in the village or surrounding hinterland," says farming contractor Robert O'Shea.
Last August, thieves stole equipment worth more than €25,000 from Mr O'Shea's yard two days after his mother's funeral.
"No one was arrested, there was no comeback whatsoever and nothing was ever found, all I got was a few 'victim of crime' letters telling me where I could get counselling. Counselling? I don't want counselling, I want help," he says.
In the past 12 months every premises in the village of Littleton, which has a population of around 400, has seen either an attempted break-in or a robbery.
No violence was used in any of the incidents, with the majority taking place in the dead of night.
The number of thefts has meant many businesses and private dwellers can no longer afford insurance premiums which have risen sharply as a result of previous claims.
The financial burden of repairing damage and replacing stolen goods is also threatening the survival of businesses in the area.
According to local curate Fr Joe Tynan, the ongoing crime problem is having a detrimental effect on the morale of his otherwise peaceful community.
"It is destroying the community because people feel very vulnerable, people feel powerless and I suppose that is how I feel myself," he admits.
"This crime problem began about three years ago and it has escalated ever since. The candle shrines in the church are regularly being broken into using bolt cutters and arrangements of flowers and personal items are constantly being taken off graves.
"We have a brilliant local garda but he is not getting the support he needs."
The owner of the local garage, Michael Clohessy, clutches a sheaf of garda crime victim letters to illustrate how often he has been targeted by criminals.
He says: "Each time I am robbed I get great help from our local guard but he is one man on his own and he is snowed under. And then these victim impact letters come and that's it, we bin them because we know there will be no follow-up, they are a complete joke … the guards don't have the resources to deal with this."
In the most recent robbery on July 3, the thieves caused extensive damage when they smashed in the windows of 12 cars which were parked at the back of the garage.
"It costs us thousands of euro every year, that we can't afford, to fix the damage, replace stolen equipment and keep upgrading the security system because we cannot get insurance.
"We have often slept on the premises at night to try and stop them - you find yourself being gripped by a siege mentality."
Michael Clohessy describes the extent of the crime problem in the area.
"I can tell you that 90pc of the farmers and isolated premises within a 10-mile radius of this village have been targeted in the past two years - the place has become bandit country." Local people have catalogued more than 50 break-ins and robberies which have taken place in the past year.
Community alert volunteer Gerry Bowe sums up the feeling: "People are angry because this is happening day in and day out - there are various robberies of all kinds from farmers, shop keepers, garages, publicans.
"When you see them breaking into the church and taking money, you just get sick."
Three kilometres away in the hamlet of Twomileborris, thieves targeted John Tully's Gala store on July 17 for the second time in 14 months.
On this occasion, the thieves got away with cigarettes worth €7,000 and €1,500 in cash. "They also caused about €6,000 worth of damage to two doors, a window and the roof they smashed through to get in, which is potentially crippling for a small country shop," he says while replaying the CCTV footage.
The businessman has decided to bring the community together to demand action.
"Every time we are robbed, we get a letter from the Garda Victim Services Office which starts with the same line: 'I am sorry to learn that you were the victim of a crime recently' and then nothing happens," he holds up the letter. "These victim letters are just rubbish so the Garda brass can cover themselves by saying they care about us, but what good is that?
"It's not letters that people want, it is action - we want to see gardaí on the ground stopping this and not stuck in offices writing letters.
"The only time we see the gardaí out here is when they are trying to catch people for speeding, even those who are just a few kilometres over the limit are being done to collect revenue for the Government."
He adds: "It is killing the relationship between the communities and the gardaí to such an extent that the law-abiding people who were traditionally supportive of the gardaí are turning against them."