A GANG of masked burglars have raided the home of a terrified elderly South Belfast couple, claiming to be vigilantes looking for drugs.

The callous crime took place last week when four thugs armed with a crowbar broke into the pensioners’ home in Ravenhill Gardens and held them captive while ransacking their home in search of cash. The cowardly thugs went on to steal money the couple had set aside to heat their house.

The gang broke into the house last Tuesday March 20, as the pair – the lady in her 70s and her husband in his 80s - were settling down for the evening. In a bizarre attempt to conceal their intentions they claimed they were there to search the couple’s home for illegal drugs.

The South Belfast News spoke with the shaken couple, who did not wish to be named, and described how their small home was invaded for the first time in almost 50 years of living at the address. They also called for other vulnerable locals to take further precautions in securing their homes.

“It was after nine when I heard noises like talking out the back, but I first thought it was kids,” the man explained.

“I opened the kitchen door leading to the outer back door and saw that four men all dressed in black and wearing scarves round their faces had broken through the glass on the door and got inside.”

Barging inside, the group, described as in their late 20s to 30s and with Belfast accents, made their way into the living room, where the shocked female resident was sitting.

“They burst in and started shouting that they were vigilantes from the neighbourhood and were looking for drugs,” she recounted.

“I think I was in a state of shock as they said they needed to search our home in case there were drugs hidden. We both knew what they were really up to, but we didn’t want to say anything to make them angry. We were both frightened as one was left to watch us in the living room while the rest went upstairs.”

Holding the crowbar, the man, believed to be the youngest of the gang, kept watch as the upstairs bedrooms were ransacked. After around 15 minutes, they came back down and one of the men attempted to glean further information about cash inside the house.

“He said to me that we had a lot of money in the bedroom, but he was just trying to con us into admitting if there was more, as we knew there wasn’t much up there,” the woman explained.

“I was in tears begging them to leave. When they went and we called the police, we found they had stolen about £150 from upstairs, and even took the £30 we had set on the mantelpiece to buy coal. It was terrifying. I’d call for other elderly people in South Belfast to be wary of these gangs who are praying on the vulnerable.”

A PSNI spokesman has called for anyone with information on the burglary to contact them on 0845 600 8000, or to call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.