A GRANDAD was battered beyond recognition on his golden wedding anniversary after confronting a cemetery prowler.
Eric Hicks needs extensive cosmetic surgery after being repeatedly punched, kicked and dragged around by a young robber.
The 72-year-old works as a volunteer for Wigan Borough’s cemetery service, and was locking up the Atherton graveyard at nightfall last Friday, when he was savagely attacked.
His family today branded his assailant “scum”, and appealed for any information that would help the police track him down. They also allowed police to release pictures of Mr Hicks’ blood-streaked face and the injuries, including a fractured cheekbone, badly-lacerated lip and cuts and bruises.
Mr Hicks had been tending his sister’s grave at Atherton Cemetery earlier in the day, and had then locked up Howe Bridge, before returning to the other graveyard on Leigh Road at about 8.15pm, to do the same there.
Unfortunately for him, he had just put his pet Alsatian in the car before locking the main gates, because family believe it would have come to his aid.
Mr Hicks was approached by a man who claimed he was waiting for a mate. The pensioner explained that he was having to lock up, at which point the man demanded money and said that he had a knife, although one was never seen.
Mr Hicks said he didn’t have any cash, but the stranger then launched a vicious and sustained attack.
Mr Hicks fell to the ground, and his attacker kicked him, then dragged him around, telling him not to scream or shout because he had a knife.
The attacker rifled through his pockets while he was lying on the ground, and took his black Nokia mobile phone, a small amount of cash, a key for a Honda car, and a torch, before fleeing.
Mr Hicks had been momentarily knocked unconscious and, after coming round, he staggered out to the road, to flag down a couple passing in their car. They got someone to ring for an ambulance, then went to his home to fetch his wife, Doreen. By the time she had been brought to the scene, an ambulance arrived.
It took him to the Royal Bolton Hospital, but because of the seriousness of his facial injuries he was transferred to the Royal Blackburn, where his lip was stitched. He will have to return there for reconstructive surgery to his cheekbone once swelling has subsided.
His daughter Sue Metcalf said today: “Dad told me he thought the man was going to kill him. I am absolutely disgusted that some loser, some scum, can inflict such injuries on a man of 72 years. The fact that he had been tending his sister’s grave, and it was his and my mum’s golden wedding anniversary, just makes it even more sickening.”
Sue said that it was hard to tell how her dad had been affected emotionally. She added: “It can only hit you later. At the moment, he says he wants to go back to work, but only in daylight. We would rather he stopped altogether, but it is something that keeps him busy, and lets him get the dog out, too.
“It was unfortunate that he had put the dog away in the car, because it would have protected him. He said it was breaking his heart hearing it barking and howling to get out as he was being attacked.”
The family are nonetheless mystified as to how the man also managed to steal his credit card, which was inside the car.
The robber is described as white, in his 20s, 6ft tall, wearing a grey tracksuit.
Detectives are keen to speak to anyone who was travelling along Leigh Road, in either direction, between Atherton and Leigh, or Liscard Street from Leigh Road to Wigan Road, from 6pm to 8.30pm.
Det Chief Insp Howard Millington, based at Wigan CID, said: “This was a vicious attack, and the level of violence used to take a few items of little financial value was wholly unnecessary.
“The victim is one of the older members of our community, who does a valuable job by looking after the place where we bury our loved ones and, as such, should face nothing but praise and respect – so I find it particularly disgusting that a thug would show such little regard for this man or the surroundings.
“The community will be equally appalled, and I’d ask for their help because, together, we can make sure the person responsible is caught and faces justice. We are determined to do this.”