Homes raided as travelling robbery gang targeted
Gardaí have identified a travelling gang they believe is responsible for a spate of burglaries in Munster and Connacht over the past couple of years.
The gang's latest target was former hurler Jimmy Campion (94), who was beaten savagely across the head with his walking stick as he confronted the thugs breaking into his Co Tipperary home on Sunday evening.
Investigating gardaí raided the homes of several suspects in south county Dublin yesterday as part of their inquiries.
Searches were carried out at the properties and items seized by officers for forensic examination including clothing thought to have been worn by the burglars during the break-in at Mr Campion's home and a number of mobile phones. The raids followed a close study of CCTV footage taken from security cameras in the Old Dublin Road area of Roscrea where Mr Campion lives with his 87-year-old wife, Maura.
Some of the suspected criminals have disappeared from their homes since the incident and are believed to have "gone to ground".
Gardaí say that at least four thugs were involved in the Roscrea burglary.
Members of the gang are prime suspects for a series of burglaries across the western region over the past 24 months and are also thought to be responsible for several break-ins in other Munster counties.
Officers say the gang struck fear into the heart of rural communities by targeting particularly vulnerable homeowners, including elderly pensioners like the Campions, and others living alone in isolated areas.
Gardaí said those involved in the Roscrea incident were particularly violent - the assault on Mr Campion left him needing several stitches for his head wounds - and they also ransacked the couple's home.
"This was very nasty. We could have been looking at another 'Ballysaggart' because of the victim's age," one officer said.
This was a reference to an incident outside Lismore, Co Waterford, last February when 90-year-old Paddy Lyons suffered severe blows to his head and face during a robbery and died from his injuries.
The suspects for the Roscrea crime are members of a travelling gang, which is one of a number that has terrorised provincial towns and rural communities and some of them have been questioned in the past about robberies and assaults.
But none of the gang is linked to the Co Waterford assault.
Last night specialists from the Garda Technical Bureau were preparing the clothing seized in the south-Dublin raids for forensic examination while the mobile phones were sent to the computer crime unit to be checked out.
A senior officer told the Irish Independent: "Our inquiries and searches were not about arrests at this stage, but were part of an evidence gathering operation and the results will be included in a file on the incident."
However, it is expected that arrests will be made following further inquiries.
Gardaí have set up an incident room at Roscrea station and have asked anybody with information to contact the investigation team on 0505 24230 or to phone the confidential line 1800 666111.
Meanwhile, Mr Campion is said to be making a good recovery from his injuries after being discharged from the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise earlier in the week.