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‘Eight teens were kicking him’: Violent bike and scooter thefts up 65% last year

Traumatic attacks on cyclists and scooter users linked to Covid-related anti-social crime.

“HE WAS PROTECTING his head [but] got a couple of kicks in the back and a hit on the head from one of the bars.”

Zara Flynn’s 15-year-old son is recovering from an attack at a Luas stop near Ranelagh in Dublin which happened last Friday. He was hit with metal bars by a group of teenagers wearing facemasks, and is now left temporarily limping after a sharp edge of one bar stabbed his leg.

“There was a large group of about 20. About eight homed in on him and started kicking him.”

Flynn’s son was locking his bike at Beechwood station when he was attacked by the group who had just got off the Luas. “He managed to wriggle under the [bicycle] racks so there was some element of protection.”

“The bike seemed to be the focus” of the attack, according to Flynn, who regrets buying her son a good bike, instead of getting him a cheaper secondhand one, as she worries this caught the attackers’ attention. “Parents want their kids to have a nice bike, but I don’t think it’s worth it if it’s going to attract the wrong kind of attention.”

The gang made off with the bicycle, leaving the injured boy behind. This was the third time that her son had a bike stolen, with one previously stolen from the same bicycle rack when his lock was broken off. But, it was the first where violence was used.

“A lot of parents have been in touch with me and they’re all concerned about the safety of what we thought was a very safe area.”  

IMG_4166 (1) Zara Flynn says that more awareness is needed of violence against cyclists. Source: Zara Flynn

Bike theft with the threat of violence or where violence is used is growing. Over the past few weeks, Noteworthy has investigated this trend as part of our Stolen Wheels project. Today, in part one of our investigation, we reveal:

  • There was a 65% increase in aggravated bike and scooter thefts in 2020
  • There were already 26 such incidents reported in the first two months of this year
  • Luas stops were targeted by gangs over the past month
  • A rise in anti-social behaviour linked to the pandemic is being blamed for an increase in attacks

Part two examines bike theft trends over past five years and hears calls for better cycling parking facilities.

***

Increase in aggravated bike thefts

There was a 65% increase in bike and scooter thefts under the threat of violence or where actual violence was used between 2019 and 2020, with reported figures rising from 79 to 131.

Already, as of mid-February this year, there were 26 such incidents reported to the Gardaí, according to a response by the Department of Justice to a parliamentary question (PQ) in March. Read the full response here.

In 2019, there was a spate of such incidents along the Grand Canal cycle path with cyclists attacked in a similar way to Flynn’s son – by teenagers with metal bars. This was reported widely at the time, with Gardaí responding by increasing their presence in that area. Since then the number of reports has only gotten higher.

Flynn’s son was not the only boy attacked with a bike stolen last month. When asked about incidents where teenage boys were being attacked by gangs for their bikes in south Dublin, a Garda spokesperson said “there have been two reported incidents matching this description”.

They are also investigating a robbery that occurred at the Cowper Luas Stop in Ranelagh at around 6pm on 1 April. The spokesperson added:

One male youth was assaulted by a number of youths, and had his belongings taken from him. Two male youths were arrested in relation to this incident and were later released without charge pending file to the DPP.

Zara Flynn was alerted to bike thefts happening around the Cowper Luas stop by her son’s school a week before her son’s attack. The email said that “there have been a number of bicycle thefts from children and teenagers” at the Luas stop and that the Gardaí were aware of the thefts.

In relation to the attack on Friday, that of Zara’s son, the spokesperson said that “no arrests have yet been made and investigations are currently ongoing”. They added that the boy in his mid-teens “was assaulted by a group of youths and sustained injuries as a result of the incident”.

Jim O’Callaghan, Fianna Fáil TD for the Dublin Bay South, where the recent attacks at Luas stops occurred, said “from speaking to the superintendent in Rathmines, Gardaí have been partly successful in their investigations and believe there will be prosecutions in respect of some of these assaults”.

He also added that Transdev – the operators of the Luas – “have a duty to ensure that criminality does not occur at Luas stations”.

A spokesperson for Transdev said they could not comment on the incidents under investigation but added that “Transdev is working with An Garda Síochána and other parties concerning recent incidents of [anti-social behaviour] on the Luas Green Line”.

Concerning security, we have increased security patrols on the Luas Green Line and Luas Customer Service are using Twitter and Facebook to remind Luas Customers to use the confidential and discreet Luas text service.

The Transdev spokesperson added that “there is excellent CCTV on the network which is always provided to the Gardaí to assist them with their investigations”.

Source: Noteworthy/Flourish

To view an interactive version of this graph, click here

Traumatised after knife attack

In her PQ response in March on aggravated theft figures, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee wrote that “in terms of those cases where offensive weapons are present, the Government is very conscious of the dangers presented by knife crime, and indeed all violent assaults”. The Minister added:

“Clearly any stabbing has the potential to cause irreparable physical harm and tragic consequences, and the Government is determined to ensure that similar problems to those which have developed in neighbouring jurisdictions do not develop here in Ireland.”

The rise in the use of scooters has attracted similar risk of aggravated robbery, with one woman telling Noteworthy that she was held up at knifepoint earlier this year in a terrifying experience.

Maria Clara Barros who works as a healthcare assistant is afraid of using her electric scooter after a man threatened her with a knife at Summerhill Parade in Dublin while attempting to steal it. This was essential for her work as she used it to travel between clients, cutting her journey time radically.

A guy grabbed me from the back, started screaming ‘Give me the scooter’ and put a knife to my throat. I started to panic and scream for help.

This happened last February which Barros said was lucky as it was cold so she was wearing a scarf which protected her neck from the knife.

Three men which Barros calls her “angels” came to the healthcare worker’s rescue. The first stopped his bike and called the Gardaí, the second shoved the attacker which caused the knife to fall and a third blocked him with his bike to prevent him getting the knife again.

The attacker bolted and soon after the group waved down Gardaí who happened to drive by. “They tried to help but they couldn’t find anybody.” Since then they were in touch with Barros to say they might have someone for the crime, but they were still researching. With no further update, she said “as far as I know, they have nothing”.

I am traumatised. I don't feel safe using my scooter anymore. I really wanted to use it to go to a homecare client this week but couldn't. Maria Clara Barros, healthcare assistant.

What traumatised Barros even more was this was the second attack she had experienced while riding her scooter to work in the early morning. Three weeks previously she was knocked off her scooter near the Samuel Beckett Bridge by a teenage boy, also on a scooter, in an attempted robbery.

“He put his scooter in front of mine and we both fell on the [road]. He started pulling my scooter in his direction.”

Barros thought he was just grabbing the wrong scooter at first until she started asking him to stop and caught the scooter’s handlebars with her legs. “He started to pull and left my leg full of bruises.”

She screamed and fought the attacker off and when a taxi stopped on the road as they were blocking his way, the teenager ran off with his own scooter. “

Barros didn’t report this first incident to the Gardaí as she had previously reported a scooter stolen and had not heard from them afterwards so thought there was no point.

That robbery and the two attempted robberies have had a huge impact on the healthcare assistant. Previously, she had a number of clients who she looked after for an hour or two in their homes, but not being able to use her scooter means this is no longer possible. Instead, she has taken on one client where she stays all day.

She feels this is happening to a lot of women, with others from the Brazilian community telling her about similar incidents. “We work so hard to get even simple things with the price of the rent so unbelievable, and then another person comes to steal it.”

Anti-social behaviour linked to pandemic

The increasing number of aggravated bike thefts is most likely linked to Covid-19, according to a number of politicians and bike campaigns Noteworthy spoke to.

Hazel Chu, the Lord Mayor of Dublin and chair of the Green Party, said that “it is Covid-related” but feels that it is important to ensure this issue is tackled as “saying ‘it’s just Covid’ doesn’t make it any better for those suffering it”.

Chu said more policing is needed for bike theft that is assault-related and plans to raise this with the Garda Assistant Commissioner for Roads Policing & Community Engagement this week. “There are lots of issues that are Covid-related when it comes to being confined indoors or not having an outlet.”

However, the Lord Mayor added that this is caused by a rise in anti-social behaviour rather than cyclists being targeted.

We’ve also seen assaults on people who aren’t cyclists. So, being a cyclist doesn’t necessarily attract  more harm to you. Hazel Chu, Lord Mayor of Dublin. Source: (Photo) Leon Farrell via Photocall Ireland

This is important for cyclists to know, she explained, as she hopes it will not discourage people from cycling and wanting more sustainable transport.

Fianna Fáil’s O’Callaghan also said that the “traumatic attacks were not just for the purpose of stealing bikes but were also designed to terrorise and bully the young boys”.

He added that “there is a responsibility on all members of the community to ensure that young boys and girls can enjoy their lives and neighbourhoods without fear of attack, and that there is no tolerance for violence being perpetrated against them”.

In her PQ response in March on aggravated theft figures, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee wrote that her “Department is developing a community safety policy, which is aimed at ensuring communities are safe and feel safe, through the establishment of inter-agency structures called Local Community Safety Partnerships”.

This is contained in the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill. The general scheme of this bill was published last week.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Green Party councillor Oisín O’Connor said that they have been liaising with local community Gardaí, not just specially about aggravated bike theft, but also the wider issue of young people having their activities taken away over the past year.

He said you can’t address the issue with more juvenile convictions. “You’ve already lost the battle if you’re starting to do that.

“We have been discussing with our local council’s sports partnerships to see if we can support more activities and get more resources to help clubs and youth groups to bolster a programme over the summer.”

Emboldened to steal bikes

O’Connor also felt that “the ease at which people have been able to steal bikes over the last few years in Dublin has now emboldened people to steal bikes in any way they want.” He feels that this has also been a factor in the increase in violent bike robberies.

Though these robberies are in a more serious crime classification than taking bikes from stands or gardens, he feels that by addressing the prevalence of non-violent theft, this could impact on more violent incidents. As it stands, the attitude that stolen bikes aren’t recovered “feeds into a sense that [bike theft] is not treated as a serious crime”.

David Timoney of the Dublin Cycling Campaign has been researching bike theft for a number of years in the city. He became aware of more aggravated bike thefts in 2019 at a local meeting in Finglas where bikes were being taken off children in parks with either violence or the threat of it.

“Parents were very agitated and worried.” Timoney said this is an escalation as bikes were being taken from people whereas previously bike theft “was known, even though it was untrue, as a victimless crime, because you never met the perpetrator”.

He said that though an increase is linked to the pandemic, these more violent crimes were happening at a low level before Covid-19. It is still only happening at a low level, according to Timoney, but added it is growing which is “pretty disturbing”.

The campaign group also became aware of the problem from contact with Deliveroo riders whose bikes were being taken. Though they’re not sure if they are being targeted, Timoney has noticed a lot of non-Irish people are victims of these attacks.

It’s unacceptable that people who are vulnerable and have done a lot of work during Covid are getting a hard time from people in Dublin.

‘Don’t feel safe’ as Deliveroo cyclist

One Deliveroo cyclist we spoke to said he has now had to change the areas where he works due to concerns for his safety.

Speaking to the investigation team, he related several incidents in which he and his colleagues had been targeted by groups, and in at least one of these incidents, his bicycle was the focus of attention.

“There are the areas in the city where I do not cycle anymore,” he said.

I got things thrown at me like bottles and stones. One time a man tried to put a metal bar in my wheel when I was cycling so I crashed. Deliveroo cyclist on cycling in Dublin. Source: (Photo) Sam Boal via Rollingnews.ie

“The canal is very [much] the same with the young people. They wait for you to come. They see the blue [food box] and they see your face and they want to rob you [of your bicycle]. It’s not nice.”

The man said that, as a result of these incidents, some Deliveroo cyclists avoid making deliveries to certain areas.

“I have one friend who still goes because he can make a lot of money because he is never stopping. There are lots of orders. But it is dangerous. I don’t like it. Deliveroo say to us not to go into areas where we don’t feel safe. More and more areas in Dublin are like this now – it is like a game to the young people.”

A spokesperson for Deliveroo said they “strongly condemn all forms of attacks or violence against riders”. The spokesperson added: “Riders’ safety is our top priority at Deliveroo. We investigate all alleged assaults when they are reported to us and we work collaboratively with the Gardaí to increase support for our riders across Ireland.”

The spokesperson added that riders can alert them to safety concerns in the app and “never have to work in areas where they feel unsafe”. 

Tackling youth justice

When Noteworthy asked what the Department of Justice (DOJ) was doing to tackle the increase in aggravated bike theft, a spokesperson said that “the policing of such incidents is an operational matter for An Garda Síochána”.

The spokesperson added that “there are already strong penalties available in law for those found guilty of such offences”. Someone found guilty of theft can receive a fine or up to 10 years imprisonment and of robbery “is liable on conviction on indictment to life imprisonment”.

The Department of Justice also pointed to the new Youth Justice Strategy, launched last month. “The immediate priority within the new strategy will be to enhance engagement with children and young people who are most at risk of involvement in criminal activity”.

They also again referenced the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill. Community Safety Partnerships will replace and build upon Joint Policing Committees and “provide an opportunity for local communities to highlight key issues in their area”.

The DOJ spokesperson said that “bike theft is an example of the kind of issue which might be considered by these Partnerships”. 

It's frightening. You need to watch out wherever you are. They’re getting brazen and confident. Zara Flynn, son beaten for bike.

It will take better community policing to tackle this issue, according to Zara Flynn, whose son was attacked last Friday. “A Garda presence is not necessarily a reassuring thing for a teenager because you’re considered part of the problem.”

She feels there is a balance between safeguarding children and policing them, which isn’t currently achieved. “They need to get a good handle on who might be causing trouble or potential aggressors.” This is different from teenagers engaging in “the odd risky behaviour which is typical teenage behaviour”.

Flynn son’s is recovering well and is “straight back at it, in many ways”. However, Flynn adds that she no longer feels that he is safe when he is out and about as it’s frightening that this type of robbery is happening.

“You need to watch out wherever you are. They’re getting brazen and confident.” 

***

Part two of our Stolen Wheels investigation examines bike theft trends over past five years and hears calls for better cycling parking facilities.

This investigation was carried out by Maria Delaney of Noteworthy, with additional reporting by The Journal’s Garreth MacNamee and Gráinne Ní Aodha. It was proposed and funded by you, our readers.

Noteworthy’s previous cycling investigation which exposed the worst places in Ireland to be a cyclist can be read here.

You can support our work by submitting an idea, funding for a particular proposal or setting up a monthly contribution to our general investigative fund HERE>> 

About the author:

Maria Delaney

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