Gangs using children to ransack charity clothes bins
Young children are being stuffed into clothes banks by ruthless gangs who clean them out and sell the clothes on the international market.
Children as young as eight are being used by the thieves to steal bags of clothes from charity collection banks in a very lucrative scheme that can earn them huge sums abroad.
On an almost daily basis, drivers from Enable Ireland arrive at clothes recycling banks to find the containers emptied and damaged, causing huge financial loss for the charity.
While some clothing banks are forcibly wrenched open, there is evidence that thieves are using young children to climb into the banks to steal the bags of clothes, running the risk of trapping them inside.
Enable Ireland employed an investigation company, Lodge Services, to monitor the clothes banks in the early hours of the morning in sites around Dublin that have been systematically targeted by thieves.
In one case, the surveillance team witnessed two men in their early 30s wrap a boy of about eight years in a duvet and lower him into a recycling bank. The child then passed the bags of clothes out to the men, who pulled him back out again after the bank had been cleaned out.
The surveillance report concluded that "a large and extensive surveillance operation" would be needed to continue the operation as the thieves quickly left the scene and were generally lost in traffic on completing the raid.
It is believed that the clothes are taken to the docklands, where they are exported, possibly to overseas recycling centres, where they can be cleaned up and sold on. According to Ann Kelly, Retail Operations Manager in Enable Ireland, the charity has lost about 72 tonnes of clothing donations so far this year with a minimum value of €40,000. A further €40,000 is being spent on repairing damaged containers, she said.
"The drivers notify the gardai of the thefts, but there is little that can be done to trace the thieves," Ms Kelly said.
"Enable Ireland is working on changing the design of the banks to make them tamper proof, such as reinforcing the bank or making the chute smaller, but we would ask people to bring their donations into their local charity shops, directly, if possible."
There is now intense competition in collecting old clothes, and while some collections are legitimate, others are organised by bogus gangs.
Two rival gangs pulled knives on each other in one confrontation in the south Dublin suburb of Blackrock some time ago.
Mags Gargan is a journalist with 'The Irish Catholic' newspaper.