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Thursday 14 December 2017

Crime tourism: two pickpocket gangs jet in from Europe

Pickpocket gangs are targeting Ireland
Pickpocket gangs are targeting Ireland

JIM CUSACK

TWO gangs of pickpockets who tour European capitals arrived in Dublin at the end of last month and have robbed hundreds of tourists in the city centre.

The gangs, both from the Roma community in Romania, arrived last month and immediately began targeting popular tourist destinations here.

After a spate of pickpocketings, gardai arrested up to 30 "new faces" among the gangs, plus some others who were already known to them. They immediately launched a campaign to combat the gangs and drive them out.

However, hundreds of "thefts from the person" have been reported in the past three weeks, most of them involving tourists. Three arrests were made on Thursday after a Finnish tourist had his wallet stolen in the city centre.

One Garda source told the Sunday Independent: "They're after anyone they see looking at a tourist map."

The Roma gang members were first noticed hanging around the Dublin Tourism Information office in Suffolk Street, off Grafton Street.

Gardai in Pearse Street Station began undercover operations and all the members of the two gangs have now been arrested or stopped on suspicion and identified. Gardai have recovered stolen mobile phones, laptops and other valuables.

All those arrested gave gardai the same address, a house divided into multiple bed-sits in north inner Dublin. The house has been used as a centre for Roma criminal activity in recent years and gardai arrested a man wanted in connection with five murders in Romania in the house two years ago.

The gangs are well versed in the Irish criminal justice system and continue stealing after being released on bail up until they are due to face trial and possible jail. They are also well aware that Ireland's bail laws are the most liberal in the EU. When enough of them are facing prison they move on to another EU capital, according to sources.

One of those arrested is a man in his late twenties who had four outstanding warrants for theft in Dublin 2008. He arrived here using a different surname, but it emerged it was not a false identity. He had married in Romania and, under Roma gypsy tradition, had taken his wife's surname, which is perfectly legal.

Gardai believe the two gangs had avoided Ireland since the economic collapse, which coincided with a fall in tourism numbers. However, they returned to Dublin amid reports of an economic revival and an increase in tourist numbers.

The gangs had well-prepared plans and targeted major tourist locations including Christ Church, the Guinness brewery, Heuston Station, St Stephen's Green and the Grafton Street area. More than 200 thefts from the person are understood to have taken place in a two-week period in and around Guinness and Christ Church before gardai began clamping down on the gangs' activities.

Gardai believe the gangs both sent advance parties to Dublin earlier this year to prepare accommodation and to scout the best locations for pickpocketing. They also have members who provide transport and others whose job it is to sell on or move the stolen goods out of the country.

Both gangs specialise in "distraction" robberies with one or two members bumping into or otherwise distracting tourists, while another "dips" their shoulder bags or handbags. They also operate in teams of two or three at night, targeting people in and around popular city centre pubs.

Gardai say the gangs have been identified as working their way across Western European capitals in recent years.

Sources say that although the gangs have been very active in the past month, Dublin still does not have a problem as serious as other EU capitals during tourist seasons. Last year, gardai arrested 610 members of Roma gangs during a three-month period after a spike in mobile phone thefts.

'Operation Aughrim' eventually led to over a thousand arrests of Roma and other foreign gang members and gardai recovered large numbers of stolen phones, most of which had been simply reported lost as the owners had not noticed them being robbed.

Sunday Independent

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