JUSTICE Minister David Ford has been challenged over what action he is taking about fear of crime amongst elderly people, by East Londonderry’s MP Gregory Campbell.
Back in August, the Sentinel ran news on its front page of the volume of crimes against people aged 65 or over in Limavady. In the most recent policing year, 2011/12, the figures showed there to be a crime against an older person at a rate of around once every four days.
Elderly charity Age Sector Platform revealed that its own research had found one in two elderly people in County Londonderry to be living in fear of crime.
Now, DUP MP Gregory Campbell has questioned the Justice Minister on whether he will undertake his own research into the fear of crime against the elderly and whether he will “offer assurance to elderly people regarding the penalties available to the courts for people found guilty of such criminal activity.”
Mr Ford replied: “Tackling crime against older and vulnerable people is a commitment for my Department within the Programme for Government and the Community Safety Strategy.
“The Community Safety Strategy includes a commitment to improve our understanding of the fear of crime. As part of this commitment, my Department is currently in discussions with partners to consider research on fear of crime and its impact on vulnerable people.
“As part of the Programme for Government commitment I intend to develop and build on work already underway to build community confidence in sentencing.
“Under the current legislative framework, custodial offences are available to the judiciary for those convicted of serious crime. Sentencing decisions within this legislative framework are a matter for the independent judiciary. In making these decisions, judges are guided by sentencing guidelines which already indicate that the courts should treat the age and vulnerability of the victim as aggravating factors.
“The Lord Chief Justice, in his Programme of Action, is enhancing the structures by which the judiciary ensure consistent and appropriate sentences. But I believe more needs to be done to increase transparency and confidence in sentencing which is why I have announced that two lay members will be included on the Lord Chief Justice’s Sentencing Group, one of whom will be representative of the views of victims. My Department will also be bringing forward a community engagement strategy.”
Age Sector Platform, a charity dedicated to making the voice of older people heard, have their own ideas about what action should be taken to reduce fear of crime amongst the elderly.
Speaking after the Sentinel revealed a spike in the number of crimes against elderly people in the G-District policing area which covers both Limavady and Londonderry, Patricia Donald, Chair of Age Sector Platform commented: “Having held two Pensioners Parliaments in the County during the last two years, we know that this is a worry that is not going away. Pensioners from Derry-Londonderry have also been telling us how they feel this needs to be addressed – through more visible policing, quicker response times and more Neighbourhood Watch schemes.”
She added: “The Justice Minister launched a brand new £20m community safety strategy for Northern Ireland, and contained within it is a commitment to tackling the safety of older people. “Age Sector Platform has welcomed this strategy, but is keen to see how urgently this matter will be tackled. We believe specific action is required in the coming months and years, and the voice of older people needs to be fundamental in this.”
Ms Donald continued: “It is vital that the PSNI and the local Police and Community Safety Partnership consult with older people in the area to address this issue locally – taking into account their views and opinions fully.”