THE daughter of a Coleraine pensioner who collapsed and died after confronting a burglar has spoken of her family’s devastation.
Bertie Acheson, 72, who struggled with the thug in the kitchen of his home, had a heart attack.
The man then snatched a purse containing £375 belonging to Mr Acheson’s wife Sheila, 70, who was in her bedroom. She suffers from severe arthritis.
The couple’s daughter Sandra Creelman spoke out yesterday, saying the three days since her father died have been a “total and utter living nightmare”.
“Our lives have been ruined. It will never be the same again, never. Not for any of us.”
She has made a tearful plea for the robber to contact police.
Speaking to the media last night, Mrs Creelman said the trauma has meant her mother will never return to her home.
“They stripped my mother of everything she held dear and loved her whole life. The person that did this has destroyed everything,” she said.
“Mum is coping as best she can. Sometimes she is numb, sometimes she cries. She is petrified. She won’t go into a bedroom at night on her own. Somebody has to be with her. She is not sleeping.”
Police believe Mr Acheson’s heart attack was precipitated by the emotional stress caused when he was confronted by the burglar, who broke into the house at Glenmore Gardens, Mountsandel, after smashing a back window in the early hours of Monday morning.
A post-mortem report confirmed cuts and bruises to the lips and neck which were consistent with an assault.
Mr and Mrs Acheson had been married for 44 years.
Police, who have launched a murder inquiry, believe the burglar lives locally and may have cut himself before fleeing.
Mrs Creelman and her husband Keith had dinner with her father and mother hours before he died. They watched the Antiques Roadshow on television and then kissed and hugged before her parents left to return home.
She added: “He told me that he loved me and that he couldn’t do without me. My last words to him were: ‘I couldn’t do without you either’. And I don’t know how I am going to.
“If the person who did this could see... if he had a heart or a conscience at all and he could just see what he has done. He has destroyed us.
“My dad was a good, good man. Whoever did this must have family of his own. He must know or he must think about how he would feel if it was his family that this happened to.
“How would he feel if somebody did that to his father? Look what you have done to us.”
Mrs Creelman said: “As your parents get older, you almost start to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally to lose them. But how do you ever prepare yourself for this?
“How can I ever come to terms with how my father was brutally attacked and killed in his own home? How do I watch my mother’s heart breaking, knowing that I can do nothing to make it stop?
“In the early hours of Monday morning somebody robbed my mum of a husband and a carer. He took away my beloved dad and left a grandson without his grandfather.
“He subjected my mum to a terrifying ordeal and took away the home she shared with my dad because she will never be able to return there.
“These have been the longest and hardest days of our lives and there will be many more to come. In a few days we will suffer the pain of saying goodbye to dad when we lay him to rest, and right now it feels like that pain will never go away.”
Mr Acheson was a regular sight around the Mountsandal area of Coleraine, walking his dog to keep fit.
Mrs Creelman’s husband Keith recalled: “Up until a short time ago Bertie had a wee dog. He was very health conscious. He didn’t want to put on any weight. He ate healthily and he walked the wee dog every day around the Mountsandal area.
“I have lost count of the amount of people who have told me that is how they met Bertie – that he would have stopped and talked to them.
“He always passed the time of day with everyone he met. It helps that people have such lovely memories of him.”
Mrs Creelman described her father as “quiet, unassuming and very private”.
“He would always put himself last. Everybody was put first,” she said.
“He had the biggest heart of any man I have ever known and I am not just saying that because he was my father.
“He would have been the first person there to help anybody if they needed help.
“He just lived for my mum. He looked after her from she got up in the morning until she went to bed at night. He never left her side. Never. They were together 44 years. They were Darby and Joan. They were very happy together.”
Mrs Creelman tearfully pleaded for the robber to come forward and talk to police, saying it is the only thing she feels she can do for her beloved father now.
“I am making this appeal in the hope that I will help to find whoever is responsible for this because it is the last and only thing left that I can do for my dad,” she said.
“I want that person or those close to him to think about what has happened to us, the devastation they have left behind and how many lives have been affected.
“If anyone can help us find the person who did this to my dad, please contact the police.”
PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Ian Harrison appealed for information from anyone who saw or heard anything suspicious in the Glens area of Mountsandal in the early hours of Monday, in particular Glenmore Gardens and Glenwood Avenue, at around 1am.
“I also need people to look in their gardens, their hedges and driveways for Mrs Acheson’s red purse which was stolen. The purse is red and six to eight inches long with a clasp,” he said.
“Anyone with information should contact the special incident room on 028 7028 0987.”