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THE Hugger muggers and the laneway honey traps

THE criminals responsible for the epidemic of street crime gripping the capital use various methods to steal money, phones and valuables from their victims.

In some cases extreme violence is meted out to unsuspecting victims, while in others, the criminals rely on their cunning. But the result is the same, with hundreds of thousands of euro in cash and valuables taken in city centre street thefts this year.

In August, gardai arrested eight people who were operating a 'honey-trap' scam in which drunken Irish men were targeted by a Roma gang. The same crew had also been involved in a spate of so-called "hugging mugging" incidents. The gang's tactic was to target drunken men in busy city centre nightlife areas such as Temple Bar, George's Street and Harcourt Street. Sources said a woman would approach a man on a street and chat and flirt with him.



Swarmed

The woman would then encourage her victim to go into a laneway on the promise of a sexual encounter. But once there the unsuspecting man was swarmed by a gang of men and women, with wallets, phones and other valuables stolen.

On other occasions the gang favoured a more low-key approach. The so-called 'hugging mugging' incidents involved victims being cuddled on the street while a criminal picks their pockets without their knowledge.

While Roma gangs were responsible for these street thefts, an extremely dangerous gang of Irish teenagers and children was responsible for some muggings in Dublin city centre during the summer.

Gardai have identified the so-called "feral gang" which has been on the rampage through the city.

The young teenagers -- made up of boys and girls -- attacked their victims as a gang, dubbed a wolf pack, often in a group of seven or more. Of particular concern to gardai was the level of violence they used.

In one incident a young man had his front teeth knocked out when he was hit across the face with a broken bottle and his phone was stolen.

A separate Romanian gang was responsible for a major epidemic of pickpocketing in the city centre in May and June -- pickpocketing offences rose by a 200pc in the south city during this period.

But after gardai made over 40 arrests, the problem eased and many of the suspects travelled to London to target tourists at the Olympics.

A source said: "At the height of this problem, four or five tourists a day were being fleeced by these street gangs, but the situation is much calmer now."

As the situation threatened to spiral out of control, extra garda attention was given to certain areas of the city centre that have been established as pickpocketing blackspots.

These included areas around Ha'Penny Bridge, Trinity College and Merchant's Arch, on the southside, and around O'Connell Bridge and Henry Street, on the northside.

Plainclothes gardai continue to patrol these areas in a bid to keep the pickpocketing gangs at bay.

For weeks, the gang targeted tourists in the city centre, dressing like them and taking just seconds to steal wallets, phones and other valuables.

Gardai have stepped up undercover operations in Dublin against young 'BMX bandits' -- particularly in the north inner city.

The teenagers got the name because they cycle up alongside their unsuspecting targets and grab phones and briefcases out of their hands as they walk along -- some-times using violence.

Most cycle-by attacks take place in and around the O'Connell Street area.

The areas where teenagers on bikes are targeting members of the public include the IFSC, O'Connell Street, Capel Street, Amiens Street and Parnell Square.

The thugs usually work in pairs.

When they spot someone holding an iPhone or briefcase they will cycle up to them at speed and try to snatch it.

Gardai have also launched a blitz on a new scam involving 'shoe shop thieves' who are targeting unsuspecting customers as they try on footwear.







Shocked

Officers have been left shocked by the spate of thefts being carried out in retail outlets and have increased their presence in busy shopping districts.

Sources have described shoe shops as one of the "main targets".

Individuals have been monitored snatching bags and wallets as customers wait to be handed clothing.

A source explained: "Shoe shops are being monitored more and more because a spate of them have been hit in the last while.

"These guys see a customer looking away or trying on shoes and flee with their valuables within seconds.

"Because it's happening across the city, we do believe this is very much a group operation."

kfoy@herald.ie


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