Bail hearing  | 

OAP Tom Niland remains on life support three months after 'horrific' burglary, court told

The bail hearing was told he suffered life-threatening injuries, including a bleed on his brain, a broken eye socket, and five broken ribs.

Tom Niland

Tom Tuite

SLIGO pensioner Tom Niland remains on life support almost three months after a “horrific” aggravated burglary, a court has heard.

The farmer, 73, suffered serious injuries at his home in Doonflynn, Skreen, Co Sligo, on January 18 last.

Gardai later charged John Clarke, 33, of Carrowkelly, Ballina, Co Mayo, Francis Harmon, 54, Nephin Court, Killala Road, Ballina and John Irving, 28, of Shanwar, Foxford, Co Mayo, with aggravated burglary in connection with the incident.

All three were remanded in custody by Sligo District Court on March 10; two weeks later, Mr Irving and Mr Clarke were refused bail by Judge Alan Mitchell.

Mr Irving and Mr Clarke brought a new bail application to the High Court, which opened before Mr Justice David King yesterday.

The State objected due to the seriousness of the case and flight risk fears.

Detective Sergeant Michael Kelly agreed with James Mulrean BL, for the State, that the offence can carry a life sentence on conviction.

At approximately 6.30 pm on January 18, he said, Mr Niland was watching the news when he noticed a van reversing into his driveway before a knock on his door.

The court heard he answered but was "rushed by three men wearing masks". It was alleged they forced him into the house and demanded money.

Mr Niland's home

He believed a knife was produced, he was threatened, and they “punched and kicked him on the ground”.

The bail hearing was told he suffered life-threatening injuries, including a bleed on his brain, a broken eye socket, and five broken ribs.

He alleged Mr Niland said the men kept demanding money and "continued to assault him viciously".

The court heard they tied his legs, and he told the men his wallet containing €80 was in his trouser pocket. It was taken, and afterwards, he woke up outside the front door.

Detective Sergeant Kelly said the pensioner's home was “ransacked”, adding, “it was a horrific scene”.

He said there was a lot of blood, and a knife was discarded.

The court heard Mr Niland untied the knot and then "struggled on his feet" from his driveway to the main road where he raised the alarm.

Four days later, a kayaker found his wallet at a lake, and nearby gardai recovered two sets of gloves with Mr Niland's blood on the outside.

At first, he made progress in hospital and gave a statement to gardai. However, on January 26, his condition deteriorated, and he has remained on life support since. The court heard a consultant doctor stated, "the outlook remains poor”.

Gardai obtained CCTV and DNA evidence and examined phone data during the investigation.

The court heard the defendants lived 50 or 60 miles away, but there was an alleged "local link in the targeting of Thomas Niland".

Cross-examined by defence counsel Aoife O’Leary, Detective Sergeant Kelly said bail conditions would not alleviate his concerns.

The two men appeared via a video link to Castlerea Prison but did not address the court.

The court heard father of three, Mr Irving was on social welfare and arrested while collecting his payment. Counsel said he had family ties, his mother with whom he lived and his grandmother.

The barrister submitted that he did not have a passport or driving licence and did not have the means to leave the country. She said he could raise €500 bail.

Mr Clarke, a father of three, was on disability benefit and resided with his mother.

Their barrister said they were willing to abide by any conditions set down by the court. Mr Justice Keane adjourned ruling on the application until next Thursday.

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