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Horrific ordeal Sligo pensioner had to crawl for help after 'callous and cowardly' home attack

Thomas Niland (73) forced to crawl to road for help after assault by three-man mob

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Gardaí carry out searches near the home of Thomas Niland in Skreen, Co Sligo.

Gardaí carry out searches near the home of Thomas Niland in Skreen, Co Sligo.

Gardaí carry out searches near the home of Thomas Niland in Skreen, Co Sligo.

GARDAÍ are hunting for a gang of men who left a pensioner fighting for his life in hospital after they brutally assaulted him during a rural aggravated burglary.

Thomas 'Tom' Niland (73) suffered serious injuries to his head and body during the break-in at his Co Sligo home last month.

Detectives believe three masked men were directly involved in the attack at Mr Niland's home in Skreen on January 18, but have not ruled out that a fourth person may have been waiting in a getaway car outside.

The retired farmer was watching television in his home at around 7pm when there was a knock on the door.

He went to answer the door and as he did, the gang burst in, having reversed their vehicle into the driveway.

He was then subjected to a violent physical assault by the masked men and it is understood one of the raiders tried to incapacitate him by tying his shoelaces together.

After the gang fled the bachelor was forced to crawl to a nearby roadway to alert passing motorists to the ordeal.

Emergency services were notified and Mr Niland was able to give an initial statement to gardaí about what happened.

It is understood those involved have been described as having Irish accents.

His condition has since deteriorated to critical and he is now on life support in Sligo University Hospital. Senior gardaí described the attack on Mr Niland as "callous and cowardly" and are attempting to identify the gang responsible. No weapons were used and no arrests have yet been made.

Gardaí are trying to establish if a local gang was involved or if criminals from outside the county were behind the attack.

Only a small amount of money was taken and no other burglaries were reported in the area that same day.

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One source said: "If a crew from Dublin or Munster were involved, you would expect a number of other burglaries in a crime blitz as part of their normal modus operandi.

"This wasn't the case, but efforts are still ongoing to identify this gang and gardaí are following a number of lines of inquiry."

This includes reviewing CCTV footage from the area, which is limited due to the rural location of the property along the N59 in Skreen.

"There are people out there who know who was involved in this aggravated burglary and serious assault on an elderly man in his home," said Superintendent Mandy Gaynor, of Sligo garda station.

"Thomas Niland and his family deserve to have these criminals who carried out this heartless act brought to Justice. Tom was transferred to Sligo University Hospital, where I am sad to say, his condition has deteriorated significantly.

"Tom is now in a critical condition and on life support."

A garda family liaison officer was also appointed to Mr Niland's family and gardaí are continuing to support them.

A large-scale criminal investigation was launched after the attack and a senior investigating officer has been appointed, along with a team of experienced detectives.

Several checkpoints in the immediate aftermath of the aggravated burglary and house-to-house inquiries in the area have yielded some information.

Supt Gaynor said they have recovered hours of CCTV footage, taken a number of statements and developed a number of lines of inquiry to date including forensic analysis of the scene by crime officers supported by the Garda National Technical Bureau.

"An Garda Síochána continues and will continue investigating all the circumstances relating to this aggravated burglary during which Tom was assaulted. No stone will be left unturned," she said.

Investigators are seeking for any person with any information to contact them immediately. Gardaí are appealing to every person who was driving along the N59 (Sligo/Ballina Road), in the Skreen area, on Tuesday, January 18, between 4pm and 8pm, who may have dashcam or any other video footage to contact investigating officers.

Gardaí are also appealing for anyone who noticed any unusual activity by people or vehicles in the wider N59 Skreen area to contact gardaí, whether they think it is related to this investigation or not.

"If you have any information on this callous and cowardly crime please contact Sligo Garda Station on 071 915 7000, the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111 or any garda station," Supt Gaynor added.

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