AN elderly farmer has spoken of the shocking moment he was confronted by a gang of four in the dead of night near his home.
Martin Brogan, who is aged 68, was threatened and robbed, just weeks after he underwent major surgery for a heart complaint.
He says he remains seriously traumatised by the ordeal.
The incident – which resulted in the theft of Mr Brogan’s pick-up and trailer – has since been condemned as a ‘deeply worrying escalation,’ following a spate of similar brazen thefts throughout West Tyrone since the turn of the year.
Speaking to the Ulster Hereald this week, Mr Brogan relayed how the incident happened at 1am on Monday, as he was going to check on a pregnant heifer in an outhouse near his home.
“The yard is about 400 yards from the house,” he explained. “There were four boys standing in the yard when I went out to check on the heifer. To be honest, I got the shock of my life after I saw them,” he said.
“They told me to ‘get back into the shed if I knew what was good for me’ and to stay there for an hour. I wasn’t threatened with any violence or weapons, but it was very scary, especially in the dark.
“The whole thing has left me very badly shaken. I’m not right since, because this isn’t something that you expect to happen on your own property. At the New Year I had a health scare after a heart attack and needed to get three stints in. Something like this definitely doesn’t help that.”
Mr Brogan is well known in the Glenhull area and also runs the local bar along with his wife.
“They took the jeep and trailer and a number of other items. They were thieving when I came across them and then headed off with my jeep. The whole thing was very upsetting,” he added.
Earlier this month, money and valuables were stolen from a restaurant in nearby Gortin. Homes in the Omagh, Drumquin and Aghyaran areas have also been targeted.
Local Sinn Féin councillor, Sean Clarke, who knows Mr Brogan, said west Tyrone was being subjected to a ‘scourge of roaming gangs.’
“It is heartbreaking that this man has been targeted by these low-life criminals in this way. He hasn’t been in great health and has obviously been very shaken by his ordeal,” he said.
“In recent times, rural areas right across west Tyrone have been experiencing the scourge of roaming gangs breaking into residential and commercial properties and robbing and stealing cash, equipment and anything of value.
“However, what happened to this local farmer represents a deeply worrying escalation.”
Constable Graham Dodds of Omagh PSNI confirmed that they were investigating the theft of a Ford Ranger 4×4 and flatbed trailer.
“Criminals may see rural areas as easy targets, but I want to reassure people that they are anything but,” he said.
“We are working with local representatives and communities to address specific concerns, to apprehend those responsible for rural crimes like this one and to give people reassurance and confidence.”