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savage robbery Volunteers to help in Garda probe into brutal attack which left Tom Niland on brink of death

'The only thing that will settle people's worries now is if these people are got'

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Tom Niland was the victim of a brutal attack in his home.

Tom Niland was the victim of a brutal attack in his home.

Tom Niland was the victim of a brutal attack in his home.

A SMALL group of volunteers are to help in Garda searches as part of the huge investigation into the brutal attack that has left Tom Niland on the brink of death.

Almost a month ago, the 73-year-old answered a knock to his door and immediately fell victim to a savage assault and robbery in his own home.

Neighbour and friend Michael Clarke said he is joining the volunteers tomorrow in assisting the Gardaí searching a route the attackers may have taken.

“They’ve asked for about 15 volunteers to assist in that search.”

People have been eager to help catch Tom’s attackers but were warned off carrying out their own searches in case potential evidence is damaged.

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Mr Niland's home

Mr Niland's home

Mr Niland's home

The investigation into the attack in Skreen, Co Sligo on January 18 hit the headlines last weekend when it emerged Tom Niland had to be put on life support.

Details of the shocking robbery emerged this week after it was revealed that men wearing balaclavas barged into his home around 4pm.

The vicious attack took place on the same day tragic Ashling Murphy was being laid to rest in Co Offaly.

Bloodied and battered, Mr Niland later managed to crawl to the road where two men came to his aid and the alarm was raised.

The fit and healthy 73-year-old can’t be described as a vulnerable elderly person, according to Michael, who is also a county councillor and local publican.

“This man was not vulnerable, he was a big, strong man, a fine man with a lot of life ahead of him. For him to get targeted and abused like this...”

But he wasn’t a match for the men wearing masks who battered him for the sake of a few hundred euro. Tom’s shoelaces were tied together to slow down any attempt to raise the alarm as the robbers fled.

There was already a heightened fear in west Sligo, where a series of break-ins and thefts occurred in recent weeks.

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“They were shocked starting off, then they got angry. Now there’s a sense of fear and sadness,” said Michael.

“Vulnerable people who are in their own houses alone think themselves as sitting ducks, thinking are they going to be next and what is being done to help them.

“Before this there was a lot of incidents being reported in west Sligo. It is hard to meet someone that hasn’t been the victim of a robbery or a burglary.”

Mr Clarke has himself twice been robbed, including one robbery at his pub.

“We have the footage of these four men that entered the premises and took about five-and-a-half thousand euros worth of alcohol. I also had a JCB digger taken on me – there’s loads of machinery being stolen, quad bikes.

“The only thing that will settle people’s worries now if these people are got.”

He said one elderly lady told him she now keeps a sum of cash in her home to have something to give to a burglar.

“She keeps a certain amount of money in the house so that if they come she’ll give it to them, that they won’t ransack the house. ”

It’s not the first time the spectre of criminals preying on elderly people has raised its ugly head in the area.

The murder of shopkeeper Eddie Fitzmaurice in 1998, left to die from hypothermia in his Bellaghy home, is still fresh in many people’s memories. No-one has ever been prosecuted for that crime.

Another case brought to mind by the tragedy that has befallen Tom Niland is that of Eugene Gillespie, in 2012.

He was beaten, robbed and left tied up in his home to die from his injuries for a paltry sum of money.

His home, right in the heart of Sligo city, not far from the Garda station, also created a sense of fear at the time, according to Cllr Declan Bree.

“Eugene was so well known and his family were so well known. People don’t forget that, and any time someone is attacked in such a savage manner, as the case with Tom Niland, it would bring back a memory of how Eugene was treated.”

There are also plans, if approved by the gardaí to fundraise a reward for any information that results in successfully bring Tom Niland’s attackers to justice.

Michael Clarke has known Tom Niland all his life.

“He worked all his life on a farm, had a small farm himself and retired. He kept his place immaculate, he had a nice car. He has a nice quality of life and is a great neighbour to his neighbours.

“He is a very private man, a shy man, but great company. A man that would help in any way he could.”

“He’s man that this should not have happened to.”

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