Burglars ‘threatened to shoot victim in face’

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Burglars allegedly beat an elderly man about the head with a hammer before threatening to shoot him in the face, the High Court has heard.

The masked intruders also threatened to cut his wife’s ear off and scald her with boiling water unless they opened a safe at their home in Co Down, prosecutors claimed.

The attack, said to have been carried out in front of the couple’s son, resulted in £4,000 in cash and a set of commemorative George Best £5 notes being stolen.

Details emerged as bail was refused to one of three men accused of raiding the house on the Castlewellan Road, Ballyward on February 22.

Alan Stewart, 31, of Knockburn Gardens in Lisburn, Co Antrim, is allegedly linked by the blood of one victim being found on his shoe.

Stewart is charged with aggravated burglary, false imprisonment of the family living at the home, and further burglaries at two bars at a later date.

Crown lawyer Laura Ievers said three masked men forced their way into the Castlewellan Road property and dragged a man in his 60s outside.

She claimed he was kicked and punched to the body and head before being struck a number of times with a hammer to the left side of his head, inflicting a wound.

The intruders demanded money from a safe, declaring they were from a proscribed organisation, the court heard.

According to Ms Ievers they became increasingly frustrated when the couple were unable to provide access to the vault.

“One threatened to cut the elderly lady’s ear using scissors, holding the scissors to her throat and demanding to know where the safe was,” she said.

“He threatened to shoot the elderly male occupier to the back of the head, then said ‘I’m going to shoot you to the front of the head so you can see it’.”

At that point their son, aged in his 30s, agreed to hand over £1,000.

But the gang allegedly continued to see more cash from the family amid further menacing actions.

They boiled a kettle full of water and threatened to pour it over the woman before throwing the contents at her husband, it was claimed.

Eventually they gained access to the safe, seizing a further £3,000 plus 30 George Best £5 notes.

As the intruders were leaving one of them allegedly punched the older man again, saying: “That’s for not telling us where the safe was.”

All three members of the family had their hands bound and were warned they would be shot if they went outside or called the police, the prosecution contended.

Stewart and his co-accused were later arrested and charged with the break-in.

Ms Ievers said forensic tests have found a match for the older male householder’s blood on Stewart’s footwear.

She also revealed that the victim continues to suffer from dizziness and a bleed to the brain.

With ongoing treatment being received from a brain injury team, his long-term prognosis is not known at this stage.

Defence counsel Richard McConkey acknowledged the alleged offences were “horrendous”.

But he argued that Stewart should be released from custody due to delays in a case he predicted will not reach trial until next year.

Refusing bail, however, Mrs Justice Keegan said: “It seems to me there has been some proper work done, it’s a complicated case.”