June McConnell’s life was shattered when three thugs armed with hammer and tomahawk confronted her at her Wavell Heights home. Picture: Jamie Hanson
June McConnell’s life was shattered when three thugs armed with hammer and tomahawk confronted her at her Wavell Heights home. Picture: Jamie Hanson

Gutless, violent thieves target elderly Australians

VIOLENCE and property crimes against older Queenslander are soaring as gutless criminals target the vulnerable.

An analysis by The Sunday Mail reveals the number of assault victims aged 65 and over spiked 30 per cent from 2016 to 2018.

The surge in violence suffered by this age group was three times the increase in assaults against the general population.

At the same time robberies against older people increased by almost 50 per cent.

Former Queensland Detective Inspector Terry Goldsworthy, now a criminologist at Bond University, said vulnerability and cash carry habits could be a driving force.

"If you take the assumption that a lot of people by that time of their lives have acquired wealth they may well be less likely to use electronic transfer of funds," he said.

"Thieves know that elderly people would be much more likely to have a stash of cash at home or when they're getting around."

Dr Goldsworthy said offenders were also more likely to target victims that posed less risk of getting caught.

"That's the case with elderly people … they're not going to be able to fight back, they may not be in a position to report it, there's a whole host of things," he said.

"They're just more vulnerable."

Bond University criminologist Dr Terry Goldsworthy. Picture: Richard Gosling
Bond University criminologist Dr Terry Goldsworthy. Picture: Richard Gosling

Australian Pensioners and Superannuants League Queensland president Cherith Wise said some older people may be too scared to leave their homes.

"But then again there are those who are assaulted in their homes so it's a vexing decision," she said.

"It seems to be increasing throughout the state and it's not good enough at all."

She said was still maybe a perception that older people carried wads of cash around but she believed those days were over.

"Maybe some of these are opportunist assaults and robbery but no I can guarantee them that there's nothing under pensioners' mattresses these days," she said.

She believed a lack of respect for older people in today's society was a huge factor.

"I think it's a cowardly thing to attack an older person," she said.

"They've worked hard, they want a peaceful existence and how dare these people take something that they haven't earned and it's someone else's."

Police data shows in 2018 there were 735 Queenslanders aged 65 and over assaulted, up from 564 in 2016.

The South Eastern region, which takes in the Gold Coast and Logan areas, was ground zero with 185 elder people assaulted in both 2017 and 2018.

Brisbane and central Queensland followed with 148 assault victims each in 2018.

June McConnell was targeted by callous thieves at her home in Brisbane. Picture: Jamie Hanson
June McConnell was targeted by callous thieves at her home in Brisbane. Picture: Jamie Hanson

Northern Queensland and the Southern region - which includes Ipswich, Moreton Bay, the Darling Downs and South West Queensland- each had 127 assault victims last year.

There were 65 robbery victims 65 and over in 2018, 39 of whom suffered armed robberies. This was up from 44 in 2016.

Brisbane was the worst place in Queensland for total robberies against people 65 and over with 19 incidents last year.

Deputy director of the Violence Research and Prevention Program at Griffith University, Dr Samara McPhedran said Queensland's ageing population could be why older people are being more frequently targeted.

"It's also possible that the numbers mean older people may be seen as an 'easy target'," she said.

Dr McPhedran told The Sunday Mail that changes in reporting may also be a factor.

"For instance, people may be increasingly reporting crimes, and older people may be more likely to report crime to police than, say, people in their teens or twenties are," she said.

"It is always difficult to say why the numbers look the way they do, and changes in crime statistics often occur for a combination of different reasons."

Dr Samara McPhedran is the Deputy director of the Violence Research and Prevention Program at Griffith University. Picture: Tara Croser
Dr Samara McPhedran is the Deputy director of the Violence Research and Prevention Program at Griffith University. Picture: Tara Croser

She added that younger age groups are still generally more at risk than older age groups but older people are much more like to fear their safety.

Queensland Council of the Ageing CEO Mark Tucker-Evans older people should be "confident not reckless" in their dealings.

"We don't want to alarm people but we want people to take appropriate precautions," he said.

"Part of that is making sure they don't walk alone at night and safeguarding their personal belongings."

Queensland Police said: "As vulnerable members of our community the QPS is committed to reducing the fear of crime and crime committed against older Queenslanders.

"Any increase in crime rates is concerning however the QPS is seeing older Queenslanders feeling more confident and supported in reporting crime to police, including in the area of elder abuse."

LIFE IN THE SUBURBS SHATTERED

WHEN three armed hoodlums forced their way into June McConnell's home on March 8, her life changed ­forever.

The 76-year-old was at her back door when she saw the first invader, then a second and then a third.

Then she saw the hammer and tomahawk.

"Before I could say anything else this hammer was coming straight at the glass, smashing it," Mrs McConnell told The ­Sunday Mail.

The weapons shattered thick glass doors as Mrs McConnell fled into the street screaming for help.

Her 87-year-old husband, who was seriously ill at the time, was in the shower.

After the horror came the clean up.

Appliances, windows, cherished family photos and even a box holding her dog's ashes were all smashed.

June McConnell’s life was shattered when three thugs armed with hammer and tomahawk confronted her at her Wavell Heights home. Picture: Jamie Hanson
June McConnell’s life was shattered when three thugs armed with hammer and tomahawk confronted her at her Wavell Heights home. Picture: Jamie Hanson

Walls were peppered with holes and her French doors were destroyed. Just last week, she found another sharp sliver of glass in the living room "nine weeks to the day this Friday". It brought back all the memories of that night.

"It's just a horrifying experience, it really is," she said. "We weren't hurt but it's the mental part. It takes so much out of you. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't leave the house for three weeks."

The brutal violation of June's home of 36 years was all for nothing. The thugs had been after a neighbour who wasn't living there at the time.

Only one thug was caught. The 20-year-old received a 28-day sentence and was ordered to pay $1000 restitution, which June hasn't seen.

INVASION FORCES COUPLE FROM HOME

LEA and Roger Garner's home invasion was so harrowing, they've decided to leave the area they love.

On March 10, at about 11.30pm, the septuagenarians were asleep in their Glass House Mountains home when a gang armed with a crowbar broke down their front door.

"When we got to our door to come out, they were right on top of us. And they were yelling and screaming at us to sit down and put our heads down, not to look at them" Lea, 70, told The Sunday Mail.

"This big guy had a flashing light in our face all the time. It was very traumatic. Roger was more worried that they were going to hit us with the crowbar but, thank God, they didn't."

It was the second time in nine years the couple had been robbed.

"This time it was worse even though we didn't lose as much but we were home and it was traumatic," she said.

"They had that crowbar swinging over our heads and they punched Roger in the face."

Taken were 76-year-old Roger's Vietnam War medals, something Lea said had high sentimental value but were worthless to the thieves.

The couple didn't move back in until after Easter and live like fugitives in their own home - ready to flee if trouble returns.

Now they've put their house on the market.

"It's sad because we absolutely love this place but you've got to feel safe," Lea said. "Our whole lives changed. It's the violation."



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