Deadly hypodermics become new shotguns

Jail escorts free drug dealer after threat of being injected with Aids-infected blood, a new tactic increasingly used by criminals
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The Independent Online
The escape from prison at the weekend of a drug dealer whose brother was a notorious gang leader saw the use of one of the Aids era's more sinister wea- pons - a blood-filled syringe.

Syringes filled with blood have been used in dozens of inner-city Dublin robberies in recent years, according to police. Criminals frequently claim the blood is HIV-infected when threatening their victims.

Michael Cahill, 33, the younger brother of Martin Cahill, the late Dublin gang leader known as The General who was murdered by the IRA in August 1994, escaped from a garda van outside Dublin on Sunday.

A heroin addict, he was serving a four-and-a-half-year sentence for a drugs conviction. He was being moved, handcuffed to a warder, to Cork Prison from Mountjoy in Dublin following a disturbance there on Saturday evening.

The Department of Justice yesterday began an inquiry into the escape, which occurred when Cahill reportedly held the syringe against the head of one of the prison officers in the van and shouted: "He has a wife and kids, **** it, I will give it to him!"

The unarmed officers released him and he ran into traffic and tried, unsuccessfully, to hijack a car before fleeing into fields.

The inquiry will try to establish how the syringe was taken into the van, and whether Saturday's fracas at Mountjoy was staged to facilitate the transfer.

A few months ago, another prisoner made his escape from a courthouse by using a syringe to threaten gardai, and in April another Dublin criminal, Thomas "Bomber" Clarke, also escorted by unarmed warders, escaped from a prison van when gunmen rammed it.

Chris Finnegan, national secretary of the Garda Federation, said "more than 10" gardai had been stabbed with syringes, though none had so far tested HIV-positive as a result. A colleague "went through a terrible torment for some time [while awaiting the result of an Aids test].

"It's more frightening than an actual weapon. They [syringes] have now become the preferred way of doing jump-overs [cash robberies in shops]." Mr Finnegan estimated the use of syringes in robberies and other crimes had been increasing steadily for five or six years.

The most common victims, and the experience has led some north inner- city Dublin shop-owners to close businesses. Other victims included two Italian tourists who were held up by a syringe-wielding thief who broke into their room in a luxurious hotel late at night.

Mr Finnegan called for armed gardai in a follow-up car to shadow prison vans in the same way as large cash consignments were escorted. He said it appeared no security lessons had been learned from the earlier Clarke escape.

Liz O'Donnell, justice spokeswoman of the opposition Progressive Democrats, said there had been 11 escapes this year and demanded tighter security. She said the justice minister, Nora Owen, should explain how the prisoner got the syringe into the van, when there should have been a search.

A spokesman for Ireland's Prison Officers Association called for pepper gas and mace to be provided to prison escorts and for shackles to be used in transporting dangerous prisoners. Routine searches did not deal with the threat as prisoners had repeatedly concealed syringes inside the body, he said.