Thug used blade to slice handbag straps and steal purses
A father of two who used a knife “as a tool” to cut the straps of handbags he snatched from women during a robbery spree around Dublin city will be sentenced in December.
Thomas Murray (34) was identified in several of the robberies from CCTV of him using the women's bank cards to make “tap purchases” in small amounts where PIN codes are not required.
Murray, of Cedar House, Marlborough Street, Dublin pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to eight robberies, one attempted robbery and one threat to kill at various locations around the city on dates between December 2015 and February 2016.
Several of the offences were committed while on bail. He has 37 previous convictions.
Murray's most recent offences came to an end in February of this year when he was “rugby tackled” by two Dublin Bus drivers who pursued him after they came to the aid of a woman he was robbing at knife point. He has been in custody since.
On an earlier occasion one of his robberies was foiled after a car containing four young women spotted him attempting to rob a woman at a bus stop while armed with a knife. They drew the car up to the bus stop, blew the horn and shouted at him until he cycled away empty handed.
Murray was cooperative with gardai when apprehended and made admissions in respect of all the offences. He apologised for frightening the woman and said he committed the robberies for food, to feed his addiction and to buy things for his kids.
He said one offence in December was to fund a Christmas present for his child and he had targeted someone “who looked like they had money.”
He told gardai he had difficulty recalling some of the events as he had been taking tablets.
When asked why he had targeted a woman in St Stephen's Green he told gardai: “She was the only girl around on her own. Wrong place, wrong time.”
Judge Melanie Greally said the reality was Murray was facing a significant sentence but a regime would have to be put in place so that there was some sort of help for him when he was next released. She adjourned sentencing until December 20th next to allow for updated reports.
Defence counsel Sandra Frayne said Murray had been abusing Zimovane tablets on top of a heroin addiction at the time of the offences. He had begun abusing the tablets during his previous prison term.
She said he had never been in residential drug treatment but hoped to take it up on his release.
She said his “modus operandi” involved women as his victims and as a person who had a sister, mother, and daughter, he was deeply ashamed and accepted it was completely wrong.
She said the offences had been committed in desperation and he had not been thinking about the victims. She said he had been using the knife as “a tool” to get the bags off victims and did not intend to cause injury.
Garda Sinead Doyle told Pieter Le Vert BL, prosecuting, that the first two offences occurred on December 8, 2015 when Murray snatched handbags from two women. In the second case he used a knife to cut the straps of the bag from the woman's shoulder, cutting her in the process.
He was identified after gardai circulated a photo fit of the robbers description. He was also identified on CCTV from several premises where he had used the second woman's bank card.
On December 21, 2015 Murray approached a woman at Spencer Dock Bridge asking her “do you have any money” before grabbing her handbag and producing a kitchen knife. The woman released her bag and Murray gestured towards her with the knife saying “fuck off ” before running off.
Murray was pursued by several members of the public and restrained until gardai arrived.
The victim, who was assisted by passers-by, sustained a small cut to her palm during the struggle with Murray. The stolen bag and all its contents were recovered.
Murray told gardai after his arrest that he had gone out that day to get a handbag off someone “who looked like they had money.” He said he needed the money to get a Christmas present for his child.
Garda Shane Behan outlined that on February 9, 2016 grabbed a woman's handbag on Fenian Street and shouted at her that he had a knife as she struggled with him. The knife came close to the woman as Murray used it to cut the bag straps before running off.
Murray was identified from CCTV in the area and from premises where he had used the card.
On February 23 Murray attempted to rob a handbag from a woman sitting at a bus stop on Rock, Road, Blackrock. Four women in a car noticed the commotion and stopped to shout and blow the car horn at him until he cycled away empty handed.
Gardai used CCTV to track him on his bicycle to his girlfriends house. He was arrested and told gardai he had been using tablets and that he was sorry. “It's the tablets, you have no thought for anyone's feelings, its no excuse though,” he said.
Detective Sergeant Des Rogers told Mr Le Vert that between the 16th and 27th of February Murray robbed handbags from four women around the city. During the first offence on February 16th he cut the bag strap of woman he robbed as she walked through St Stephens Green.
He robbed another woman on the Dodder Walkway in Irishtown on February 19, 2016 during which he pulled a knife until she released her bag. He robbed another woman on Northumberland Road on February 21, 2016 during which he told the woman he would stab her.
During his final robbery on February 27th, 2016 Murray grabbed a bag from a woman who was waiting to meet friends for dinner in the docklands and cut the straps. The woman grabbed it back and the contents fell onto the street.
There was a struggle as he tried to take the items and the two fell on the ground and out onto the road. As Murray tried to take her phone the woman grabbed at it and shouted for help.
Two Dublin Bus drivers who saw Murray punching the woman ran towards her to help. Murray ran off as he heard them shouting and they pursued him.
He threatened one of the men with a knife but they managed to put him to the ground until gardai arrived. Gardai searched Murray when they arrived and found a cannister of pepper spray.
During a further search at the garda station they found a man made “holster” or cover for the knife in the band of his trousers. Murray made full admissions describing how he had been “rugby tackled” by the men.
Murray told gardai he and his girlfriend had been arguing about money because “we are so broke” so he stormed off and robbed the woman. He said he had found the pepper spray and did not intend to use it. He apologised and said it was a spur of the moment offence.
Det Sgt Rogers agreed with Ms Frayne that Murray was a chronic drug addict but that he co-operated with gardai. He agreed the offences were to fund his drug habit and the card transactions had been purchases of items to feed his baby.
Ms Frayne said that Murray had a difficult family background and had been in care as a teenager. He began abusing alcohol at twelve years old and drugs at 16 years old as a result “of people he was liaising with and no parental supervision whatsoever.”
He had his first custodial sentence as a 16 year old and has been in and out of prison since then.