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Wednesday 20 March 2019

Roma 'Fagin' gang leaves -- but others will take its place

NIAMH HORAN and JIM CUSACK

GARDAI say a gang of Roma gypsy pickpockets, some as young as 12, who have been targeting tourists and shoppers in Dublin city centre over the past month, are believed to have left the country heading for new hunting grounds in Glasgow and Edinburgh. They are expecting new gangs to take their place here as the gangs are organised on a Europe-wide basis and co-ordinate their operations.

Gardai are angry that even though gang members were arrested and repeatedly brought to court, they were all released immediately on bail -- and went straight back to robbing women of purses and stealing money from ATMs in "distraction" scams.

They were so active that in the south city centre area some people were targeted on more than one occasion. The Sunday Independent's Anne Harris was the subject of two attempted purse-snatches within minutes, before her purse was eventually stolen by a Roma girl as she was jostled by other members of the gang at the gates of Trinity College on Nassau Street.

"They were all distraction operations," she said. "On the first occasion in Westmoreland Street they actually got my purse out of my bag and were running away. I went after them shouting: "My purse, they've got my purse." It was a crowded street and they dropped it and ran off. Then it happened again within two hours but they didn't get the purse that time.

"Finally, two days later I was opposite the TCD entrance on Nassau Street. It was a very pretty little girl. She was not wearing the usual long dress but jeans. She did have a head-scarf on. Again I found myself being jostled. I immediately knew what was happening but they got it on the third attempt in two days."

The teenage and younger gang members work under Fagin-type gangsters to whom they have to give most of their stolen money and goods.

When questioned, they all refuse to reveal the identity or identities of the gang leaders, with gardai saying some are in fear of their lives.

One garda said: "There's one man controlling the entire process. He's recruiting children who are as young as 12 years of age. He's organising the gangs of children, making sure they're well versed so that they won't mention his name to gardai if caught.

"He is sending the children out working the streets all day long, from seven in the morning till seven at night and they're very clued in.

"At the end of the day they won't stay with the main leader, they all go back to their families and then head out again the next morning."

The city centre-based garda warned that shoppers need to be wary about keeping their belongings secure.

"People are very naive and they leave their bags slung over the shoulder, half open, and then they only realise what has happened a few hours after they've been robbed.

"The kids are quite brazen about it. They'll walk straight up to someone and put their hand into their pocket or bag."

The Garda Crime Prevention Unit has expanded recently in an attempt to clampdown on the pickpockets, but gardai say it is proving more difficult than anticipated.

"It just seems that when you clear one group off the streets another one comes into the country. A lot of them are changing from the traditional Roma dress to jeans and a top so they they'll blend in a bit more and not stand out from the crowd."

Last month, one man was caught on three separate occasions, charged and brought to Dublin District Court. On each occasion he was immediately granted bail.

As the charges against the gang built up and proceedings were impending, it is understood, they simply packed up and left the city with their takings intact. Intelligence reports suggested they travelled north and then by ferry to Scotland.

Roma gangs have become more active here and elsewhere in western European cities since the eastern states, where they are based, entered the EU.

In the past two years, gardai in Dublin have had to contend with a major increase in ATM "skimming", pick-pocketing and "distraction thefts" almost all attributed to Roma gangs.

The ATM skimming gangs are on a level up from the pickpockets and ordinary thieves and are highly organised and involved in theft on a significant scale.

On several occasions, young Roma men have been stopped and found to be carrying large numbers of cash cards that had been computer copied.

One man was arrested in Grafton Street last year with 200 cards. He had been going from ATM to ATM around the city centre stealing tens of thousands of euro. The ATM "distraction" theft where two Romas go up to someone at a cash machine and, just as the machine pays out, one bumps into the customer while the other grabs the cash, has died down in the past fortnight since the gang left for Scotland.

However, gardai in central Dublin said that it appeared that within recent days another gang had started operating.

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