A 29-year-old care assistant who broke into the homes of a number of vulnerable elderly people living in a remote area of Kerry, robbing them of cash, has been jailed for five years.
The victims, aged between 71 and 91, were robbed of cash amounts of up to €5,000 by John Houlihan, of Douglas, Killorglin, Co Kerry, who previously worked as a carer in a nursing home.
In one of the incidents, Houlihan threatened to burn the home of a man he accosted in his bedroom unless he got money.
He pleaded guilty to nine counts of burglary of the homes of various people between January 2010 and January 2014. Some of them were his neighbours and some are related to his family through marriage.
A former carer at St Joseph’s Home in Killorglin, he also pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a young woman in mid-Kerry in April 2012 and to unlawfully entering her home.
The woman woke up to find Houlihan digitally penetrating her after he followed her home after earlier groping her in a nightclub.
Before imposing sentence at Limerick Circuit Court yesterday, Judge Carroll Moran described the cumulative effect of the 11 separate offences as an aggravating factor in the case.
The court heard the amount of money stolen from the elderly people varied in amounts from €70 to €5,000.
Judge Moran said while the motive was financial, the impact was psychological and some of the victims were home at the time of the burglaries.
“The experience for elderly vulnerable people living alone in rural, remote areas is a particularly nasty crime, and one which the court has a particular duty to stamp upon,” he said.
The judge described the burglaries as an unacceptable intrusion and said some of the victims had “lost forever the feeling of security of living in their own homes”.
One of Houlihan’s victims was a 62-year-old man who suffers from a disability and attends a daycare centre.
Houlihan, the court heard, accosted this man in his bedroom and threatened to set fire to his home unless he gave him money.
Previously, the court heard how the 29-year-old — who has a serious gambling addiction — actually set the bedsheet alight.
However, the man shone a torch in Houlihan’s face and also managed to put the fire out.
The court heard how Houlihan had lost his job as a carer because of the publicity surrounding the case.
Most of the burglaries took place in the early hours and during the depths of winter, and some of the elderly were now prisoners in their own home afraid to leave a door unlocked even to go into the garden.
Judge Moran said he had read a letter of apology written by the accused and accepted his words of regret and shame.
The judge imposed a seven-year jail sentence but suspended the final two years.
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