Spate of burglaries hit Westport area in recent weeks
GARDAÍ and community alert volunteers in Westport have appealed for vigilance from the public and all homeowners, following a spate of burglaries in the last number of weeks. The current figures for August show that one house is being burgled in the locality every day, and Gardaí admit they have no solid leads on the crimes.
As of yesterday afternoon, 34 homeowners had reported that they had been robbed since the beginning of July, (20 in July and 14 in August) and it is apparent that Westport has become a haven for thieves of late.
While it is mainly unoccupied houses that are being targeted, one homeowner in the Cloona area disturbed the culprits as they were attempting to break into his house at 9pm one evening.
Homes have been robbed on the outskirts of the town, mainly in Carrowholly, Slaugar, Clogher and Brackloon, and in a number of areas in the vicinity of the West Road. Now, Westport Town Councillor, Christy Hyland, himself a former detective garda who used the issue of CCTV cameras as a campaign pledge, is criticising Westport Town Council for ‘dragging their heels’ on the issue.
According to Cllr Hyland, money can be found for all manner of things in Westport, but ‘when it comes to a vital issue like security it seems it is not as important as aesthetic enhancements, other projects or celebrating Westport’s achievements’.
A Garda spokesperson informed The Mayo News that the force in Westport are also in favour of a CCTV system, saying that movements thorough the town at night by people or vehicles would be recorded, which would give investigators a lead on any number of incidents. The spokesperson lamented the fact that at present, Gardaí rely on the ‘goodwill of decent local business people’ to help them solve crimes by allowing access to their recordings.
“CCTV not only acts as a deterrent, but provides some of the best, irrefutable evidence to any investigation,” they said. “Without it at present, Westport is behind the times and leaving itself wide open.”
Reality of funding cutbacks
Cllr Hyland outlined the difficulties facing the Gardaí and says he has no qualms about speaking out on the issue of Garda resources in Westport being stretched, saying: “I know what I am talking about.”
“There is only one detective in Westport, whereas there are five in Castlerea,” said Cllr Hyland, who served in Westport Garda Station for 27 years. “The Gardaí need more resources but Templemore (Garda Training College) is closed, the situation is crazy. The world, and with it Westport, have moved on since the 1970s, but with cutbacks in garda numbers, without an accompanying cut in crime levels, the morale in the force across Ireland is low.
“I have been pushing for cameras since I was elected in June 2009 but still none are operational, I won’t give up the fight though and am now calling on all councillors to make this a top priority. We have to get the balance right in Westport. The town is a great success but with that success comes responsibility. What is the point of being called the best place in Ireland to live, when people are in fear of their homes being robbed at night.”
A new garda rostering system has been criticised within the force, with members in Mayo saying it may work in cities but is not effective for rural policing. The issue of squad cars not being fit for purpose but not being replaced is affecting every garda division, with one local garda source predicting ‘the system is heading for breakdown’.
The Mayo News learnt of one incident recently when a manager of a large supermarket in a major south Mayo town apprehended a thief as he made off with €250 worth of groceries in a trolley. He called the Gardaí while he confronted the man, only to be told that no officers or cars were available to aid him as they were attending an incident in a nearby town. Unable to detain the man on his own, he had to let him go. By the time the Gardaí arrived half an hour later, there was no sign of the suspect. This occurred around in broad daylight during business hours.
One Westport Community Alert Group has over 150 members who are ever-watchful, and alerted instantly by text if there is any suspicious activity in their area. Called ‘Rosbeg Community Alert’ they cover a vast swathe of west Mayo from Rosbeg to Killadangan, Owenwee, Knappagh, Cloona, Brackloon, Killeenacoff and everywhere in between. The group has two ‘proactive’ Garda liaison officers they work closely with, and are active almost daily in crime prevention.
Colm Cronin is the Secretary of the group and explained that they also issue alarm pendants to the elderly and those living alone, whose welfare they place a particular emphasis on, and not just in a crime prevention sense.
Vigilance and help urged from public
Several years ago a criminal gang were operating in the Westport area when dozens of houses were burgled, but they were apprehended in Dublin following a lengthy Garda investigation. A Garda spokesperson has disclosed that the methods employed by the current thieves do not indicate the same level of professionalism from the culprits as those in the past, as there have been several entry methods - including blatant window smashing - and these robberies are all occurring at night, whereas before they happened in daylight hours.
In the current spate of robberies in Westport, the thieves seem to only be looking for money. In some cases, all they made off with were the contents of coin jars, which they emptied into pillow cases. Jewellery is often not touched, nor bulkier items, and Gardaí have found evidence at some houses which links the culprits to more than one crime scene.
The Gardaí are appealing for vigilance by all homeowners, urging them not to keep quantities of cash at home, and to lock up all garden implements, which have been used to aid in break-ins.
All windows should be kept locked when the house is empty and at night, and alarms, where applicable, turned on. It is also vital that people are alert in their areas and report any suspicious activity or vehicles, regardless of how small or irrelevant you think your information may be. Gardaí have stated that without help from the public it will be extremely difficult to catch or prosecute anybody for these burglaries.
Rosbeg Community Alert will hold a meeting in The Sheebeen Pub at 8.30pm this Thursday evening. The meeting is open to everyone and anybody interested in finding out how to set up a Community Alert Scheme is more than welcome to attend and obtain relevant information.
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