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Shop worker punched so hard during robbery says, ‘I was afraid I’d lose my sight’

CCTV footage shows terrifying moment shop assistant was pepper-sprayed

The thief enquires about a phone

The thief asks about a phone

The thief grabs the phone after pepper-spraying staff

The thief flees with the €1,350 phone

Dublin self-defence instructor Maria Poole. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Laura LynottIndependent.ie

This is the moment a masked thief, posing as a shopper in Dublin city centre, showered staff with pepper spray before fleeing with a €1,350 phone.

The CCTV footage was provided to the Irish Independentas business people in the north inner city report that robbery and theft are on the rise.

People trading in the area are hoping that the new garda station on O’Connell Street will help tackle the crime and anti-social behaviour that is rife.

Labour councillor Joe Costello told the Irish Independentthat a lot of the anti-social behaviour in the area is linked to drug use.

He said: “Women are intimidated in the north city. There’s a lot of people hanging out around the street, especially at night. Drugs are part of it, assaults, abusive activity, intimidation. There’s poverty underneath everything.

“I’m not happy with the situation on Talbot Street, because that street was one of the busiest and most productive retail streets in Dubin, after Henry Street and O’Connell Street. There’s a lot of gangs. We need more guards patrolling.”

The incident captured on CCTV occurred at an internet cafe on Parnell Street last November, when a man wearing a surgical facemask entered the business and approached staff.

Moment man pepper sprays employee before stealing a €1,350 phone in Dublin

His face was almost completely concealed, as he posed as a shopper, asking detailed questions on which mobile phone he should buy.

“Which one is bigger in size?” the thief asked, as one of two shop assistants explained the design and cost of the phones.

The thief then asked, “What do you recommend?” as he moved closer to the till.

One staff member responded: “I recommend iPhone. iPhone is much better.”

The robber then moved closer to a glass shelf, pointing at phones for sale. As he did this, he momentarily distracted the shop workers.

He grabbed pepper spray from his pocket and doused the workers with the spray, grabbing a pink phone box on the till. This box, the shop owner said, contained a €1,350 phone.

One of the workers chased after the thief but he escaped on foot.

Shop owner Adeel Ali said his shop has been targeted by thieves twice in a matter of months. “This happened in November in the morning. The guy ran away with a €1,350 mobile,” he said.

“People are tired of calling the gardaí. Nothing happens, no one gets arrested, it’s a waste of time. He sprayed pepper spray at the staff.

“The shop has been robbed two times now, once in November and at the end of December.

“In December, two guys came into the shop. They were wearing masks, too. They were also acting like they were ordering something and ran away with a phone worth around €600.

“In the November incident, it was terrifying when the man sprayed in the workers’ faces. They didn’t know what was going on, one of the staff tried to chase him. They have been afraid since.

“If we try to stop antisocial behaviour outside the shop and it’s a child, they threaten to sue you. They say their parents will sue you. There are not enough gardaí.

“The people who stole from us are around 18 to 21 years old. We want to see much more gardaí patrolling the north city. We need guards patrolling every few hours. People under 18 are standing outside and they’re very rough, it’s intimidating.”

Mr Ali is hopeful the opening of the station will now effect change and make the north city streets more secure.

A garda spokesperson said: “Gardaí are investigating a robbery incident that occurred on the November 26, 2022 at 11.11am at a retail premises. A phone was stolen.”

Meanwhile, business people’s hopes are pinned on the new O’Connell Street garda station and that the facility will restore a once-vibrant area for families, shoppers and tourists.

The station was opened last week with aspirations for dedicated security for the north inner city.

However, Fine Gael TD for Wexford, Paul Kehoe, admitted at the time, he still didn’t “feel fully safe on O’Connell Street”.

Though Mr Kehoe added that he would “feel a little bit safer, as a result of the new garda station”, the facility’s presence alone didn’t seem to completely quell his concern.

Last week, Mr Kehoe told Drivetimeon RTÉ Radio 1 he hadn’t felt safe walking down O’Connell Street for some time. “There are just some people who do not want help in any way and they just continuously carry out this thuggery on O’Connell Street,” he stated on air.

The upward trend of criminal activity in and around Dublin north city’s shopping and tourism area, has recently reached intolerable levels, business owners also believe.

Many told the Irish Independentthey not only feared for themselves, but for their staff and their property.

And Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures from 2022 up to the end of September reflect this concern.

During this period, there was a 15pc increase in attempts or threats to murder, assaults, harassment and related crimes in the Dublin Metropolitan Region recorded, compared to the same period in 2021.

There was a 38pc hike in theft and related offences, within the same period, according to the data, under reservation.

One store owner just off O’Connell Street, who did not want to be named, said he’d recently been assaulted and robbed by two men when he locked up for the evening. He felt if more garda resources had been available at that time, those attackers might have been deterred.

“There were two fellas and they came up behind me and knocked me down on the ground,” the shop manager said. “One of them was punching me so hard, so many times in my eye, I was afraid I was going to lose my sight. I believe they’d been watching me and lay in wait.

“They robbed my wallet and ran off. They were never caught.”

The man said he hoped the new garda station would improve matters. Businessman Noel Tynan said: “Enough is enough,” referring to antisocial behaviour in the north city.

“We need more gardaí patrolling. People are afraid to go down O’Connell Street. I’ve had three of our staff mugged on O’Connell Street.”

In one recent incident, a male worker was asked for a cigarette and then “hit on the side of the head and knocked down”, Mr Tynan said.

Another male employee was approached by two men, who tried to rob his watch.

“Staff also find themselves trying to protect people on the street,” Mr Tynan said.

“People are randomly being attacked, it’s going on wholesale. Guys on electric bikes are driving down O’Connell Street at full whack. Gangs of men are walking down the streets. They’re all basically saying, ‘We own the streets’.”

Some shop owners said they’d felt powerless as shoplifters repeatedly stole from them. They stopped confronting thieves, fearing assault allegations and even litigation. One shop owner said he’d been partially blinded by a shoplifter. Ever since, he’s warned his staff not to challenge thieves.

It comes as the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) is to stage another “day of action” after participating in a protest march against ongoing roster issues earlier this week.

Antoinette Cunningham, general secretary of the AGSI, said “anecdotally” the association had heard that an “unprecedented” number of gardaí had resigned last year due to “stress, pressure, overly bureaucratic systems, over-regulation, assaults on gardaí and more attractive private sector opportunities.”

Ms Cunningham added: “The AGSI have previously called for a separate garda pay and pensions remuneration body to be established and we now reiterate a call for that to be done.”

She again called for the introduction of body cameras for gardaí after a rise in assaults on officers.

Meanwhile, some city self-defence classes have had a 20pc increase in membership.

Patrick Cumiskey, from Krav Maga Ireland, said: “It’s definitely more intimidating for women at the moment. People say to us they don’t feel safe coming home from work, when it’s dark.

Self-defence instructor Maria Poole added: “Something could happen anywhere. It’s about knowing what to do if it does.”

A Department of Justice spokesperson said it’s “determined to tackle criminal and anti-social behaviour” and “is very conscious of the impact it can have on the quality of life for local communities, including in Dublin city centre.”

A garda spokesperson said the new O’Connell Street station would “enhance visibility and improve citizen safety”.

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