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Gangs using children to rob from charity clothes banks

Gangs using children to rob from charity clothes banks

The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) said it has lost around €1m in funding after their clothes recycling banks were targeted by thieves.

The charity believes the losses have mounted over the past five years due to raids on their clothes banks across Cork.

“We have close to 100 clothes banks out around the city and county. They’re very important to us financially,” Brendan Dempsey, spokesperson for SVP in Cork, told RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland.

“At the moment in Cork we would be calling on around 5,000 families a week. This is a huge increase in the number of requests coming in in the past few years.”

He referred to a Prime Time investigation aired in 2013 that showed criminal gangs stealing from clothes banks and flogging the clothes in Eastern Europe, where a 40ft-trailer full of clothes was estimated to be worth €35,000-€100,000.

“It has started up again in the last two years, and it has got increasingly worse,” Mr Dempsey said.

“A fortnight ago, we went out to a container and the front door of a steel bin had been sliced off with an angle grinder.”

As well as stealing the clothes, he said the thieves had unbolted the padlock from inside the door, seemingly intending to get a key cut.

“We now have to change all the locks on our bins and it’s a huge cost on us,” he said.

He added that some of the gangs were enlisting small children to climb inside the bins and remove clothes.

“It has shown up on CCTV cameras in car parks in shopping centres where you could see children being pushed into the bin and then pop the clothes back out again,” said Mr Dempsey, noting that it’s particularly dangerous and the children involved could be seriously injured while trying to squeeze through the small opening.

A number of the thieves are reportedly using rolled-up duvets to block the chute of the bin, so that donors will leave their bags of clothes sitting outside the bin, facilitating easier collection for the gangs.

“It’s a huge source of income for us,” Mr Dempsey said, noting that the charity runs largely with the help of volunteers.  

“In the Cork region last year we just topped €2m gross. This would have gone directly into the number one account for the poor, to help families.”

He believes the stolen clothes are shipped out of the country, where they can be sold for thousands of euro.

“They’re not being stolen to be worn by the people who are stealing them, they’re making money out of it, they’re selling them somewhere,” he said.

Mr Dempsey claimed that SVP weren’t alone in being targeted, and that it was an issue affecting the rest of the charity sector.

“It must be millions of euros when you add all the charities together,” he said.

A Garda spokesperson told Independent.ie that any reports of thefts will be fully investigated.

The Irish Examiner reported that a spokesperson for the Irish Cancer Society said their charity shops have experienced similar incidents with gangs.

Sources from Barnardos and the ISPCC told the paper that they did not have the same problems as SVP.