Teen tragedy | 

Covid lockdown led to ‘toxic’ atmosphere on Dublin streets when Josh Dunne was killed

It is understood that in normal circumstances Josh would have been playing a match at the time he was stabbed to death on a street at 9pm that day.
Josh Dunne. It is believed if the country had not been in lockdown he would have been playing football at the time he was stabbed

Josh Dunne. It is believed if the country had not been in lockdown he would have been playing football at the time he was stabbed

Ken Foy

Ireland was in a strict Covid-19 lockdown on the evening Josh Dunne was killed in East Wall on January 26 last year, with the country recording some of the highest infection rates in the world .

Schools were closed and football-crazy youngsters like Josh, who had never before come to garda attention, were unable to train or play organised matches.

It is understood that in normal circumstances Josh would have been playing a match at the time he was stabbed to death on a street at 9pm that day.

Sources said then that gardaí found policing certain inner city areas “challenging” with groups of youths hanging around the streets with very little to do.

The atmosphere in certain parts of the capital’s north inner city was “toxic”, according to sources familiar with policing the area.

During the lengthy Josh Dunne murder trial, Superintendent Paul Costello of Store Street garda station said communities in the north inner city “no longer felt safe” after a spate of violent incidents between 2019 and 2021.

It was from this background that some insight might be gleaned into the appalling tragedy of the 16-year-old’s death.

The talented footballer, from Ballymun, was tipped to be a future star before his life was cut short.

His death left family and friends grief-stricken, and in the days that followed his heartbroken mother Dianne Dunne was led out to a memorial for her son by members of his football team, St Kevin’s Boys.

Yesterday, following the acquittal of delivery rider George Gonzaga Bento (36), Mrs Dunne took to Facebook, where she thanked everyone for “their kind words”. She added: “I’m not going down easy, I’ll keep fighting for Josh until the day I die.”

In January last year, with restaurants shut, delivery riders had arguably never been busier.

Many were Brazilians like Mr Bento, who was cleared yesterday of all charges against him.

Many worked for Deliveroo or similar companies.

In the year before the brawl in which Mr Bento fatally stabbed Josh, official garda figures show there was a “dramatic upward trend” in the hijacking of vehicles, including bicycles and e-bikes, using the threat of violence or a weapon, according to evidence heard at the murder trial.

George Gonzaga Bento leaves the Central Criminal Court yesterday after being acquitted of the murder of Josh Dunne in January 2021. Photo: Collins Courts

George Gonzaga Bento leaves the Central Criminal Court yesterday after being acquitted of the murder of Josh Dunne in January 2021. Photo: Collins Courts

Delivery riders felt they were being increasingly targeted in certain parts of the capital, and they even boycotted certain areas later last year.

When asked to describe the atmosphere for Deliveroo drivers in Dublin 3, a key witness who worked with Mr Bento said: “I would describe it as dangerous. I knew that area was very dangerous for delivery.”

Guilherme Quieroz said: “Some time before this, we had an episode about a delivery man killed by a car. Everyone is concerned about delivery in that area.”

He confirmed delivery workers had a WhatsApp group to alert each other to “trouble spots or danger areas”.

Later, the trial heard from Supt Costello, who had been asked to make a statement regarding the level of criminality in the community at the time of the stabbing.

He said the incident that led to Josh being killed was one of three events that happened about the same time. These, he said, were when a woman died after being stabbed near the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC); when a man was lucky to survive after being stabbed at Seville Place in the north inner city; and when a Deliveroo cyclist was killed in North Wall.

The IFSC stabbing happened just six days before Josh was killed, and the Seville Place stabbing happened two days later.

Referring to the hit-and-run incident that happened in North Wall in August 2020, Supt Costello told the jury that Deliveroo cyclist Thiago Cortes was cycling on to North Wall Quay when he was hit by a vehicle that was travelling at high speed and had driven through a red light.

The car, with a juvenile at the wheel, had not been targeting Mr Cortes, but he was killed, he said.

The teenage driver was remanded in juvenile detention for two years.

Diane Dunne, Josh Dunne's mother, leaves the court after the verdict. Photo: Collins Courts

Diane Dunne, Josh Dunne's mother, leaves the court after the verdict. Photo: Collins Courts

Supt Costello said another Deliveroo driver – Francisco Teruliano de Oliviera Neto, known as ‘Neto’ – had been attacked by a group of males in the Finglas area of Dublin in February 2019 after he stopped a vehicle to ask for directions.

The cyclist suffered a broken nose and his phone and food were taken, he said.

The court heard there was no CCTV where the incident happened and the investigation has not produced a prosecution.

Supt Costello said there was concern in the community because of these incidents and that his attention was drawn to the targeting of food delivery drivers who felt unsafe.

He said he had a meeting with Deliveroo, Just Eat and Uber Eats and rider representatives and those from the Brazilian community.

Supt Costello agreed there had been an “outpouring of concern” from the communities living in Dublin 1 and 3 as they did not feel safe in their own neighbourhoods.

Others expressing concern were those working in the areas as delivery cyclists and members of the Brazilian community, he said.

In response, the witness said a policing plan was formed to restore public confidence in the areas.

He directed high-visibility policing be assigned to address the issues of anti-social behaviour, drug-dealing and theft-related offences.

There was also a concern about knives, screwdrivers and firearms being used.

Referring to the death of Mr Cortes, the witness said a protest march was organised for him, which began at the GPO on O’Connell Street and concluded at the scene of the incident at North Wall Quay.

“As it made its way, there were a number of local people who took exception to them walking by and there was verbal abuse,” he said.

Separately, the court also heard that another Deliveroo driver had passed the scene of where Josh Dunne’s vigil was taking place and had been attacked.

Supt Costello said police presence had been increased in the Dublin 1 and 3 areas.


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