Dublin muggers bring terror to the streets with blood-filled syringes

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The Independent Online
It Is A weapon from a horror film: a syringe filled with blood that may be infected with Aids. Yet in Dublin, its use in muggings has become an everyday occurrence.

Last year there were more than 2,200 syringe attacks or threatened attacks in the Irish capital - an average of six a day in a city that now has an estimated 8,000 heroin addicts, most of whom must steal to satisfy their daily craving.

Drug-related crime accounts for as much as 80 per cent of all offences in Dublin, from shoplifting to thefts from cars and housebreaking. But it is the muggings using blood-filled syringes that are causing the most concern, and have prompted one insurer to offer cover against Aids contracted by assault victims.

Michael Murphy of Scottish Provident said the syringe attack insurance was a response to demand from brokers. "Doctors, nurses, gardai and prison officers already have our existing occupational protection, but there are shopkeepers, taxi drivers and bus drivers who are crying out for cover, " he said last week. Monthly premiums of pounds 20 for a typical 30-year-old worker would provide pounds 115,000 in critical-illness cover.

The syringe has become a popular weapon with criminals and addicts in Dublin because it is cheap, easy to obtain and the sight of a blood- filled hypodermic needle causes terror among victims because of the fear of Aids.

This is a real threat, as the huge Dublin drug problem means intravenous drug users are the largest risk group for the Aids virus, HIV. Official figures show that 1,753 have tested HIV-positive; 254 Irish men and 54 women have died to date from Aids.

As a weapon the syringe is also easy to conceal, and possession of one is not in itself an offence. It is popular with addicts for so-called "jump-overs" in which they leap over the counter to rob staff at shops or petrol stations. One newsagent was robbed more than once by a syringe raider in a single day.

The introduction of the insurance scheme came shortly after a Dublin court jailed one HIV-positive assailant for 12 years for syringe attacks. The court heard that Jason Healy, of Crumlin, Dublin, was found trying to break in the door of a flat in which a young mother was screaming.

A passer-by overcame Healy, then told him he would release him if he went away. Freed, Healy stabbed the man three times in the leg. The Circuit Criminal Court heard that, when arrested, Healy bit his lip and spat blood at gardai, and repeatedly stabbed one officer in the hand with the syringe.

Initial tests showed that neither victim had been infected with the HIV virus, though the court heard that the civilian who tackled Healy had suffered severe psychological damage.

The court was told that Healy, aged 27, had been taking heroin since he was 14, and had a pounds 200-a-day habit.

A garda witness said when asked if it mattered to him if he gave a victim HIV, Healy replied that "it would not bother me if they were threatening me. I would give it to them, as quick as I got it."

Recent attacks using the same weapon included a raid last month in which pounds 1,000 was taken when a waitress was grabbed and threatened with a syringe in a busy city-centre restaurant near Dublin Castle shortly before midnight. Other recent victims have included the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Brendan Lynch, and his official driver.

The Lord Mayor needed hospital treatment for hand injuries after he tackled thieves who stole his mobile phone and threatened him with a syringe.

Ten days ago a man who hijacked a taxi and stabbed the driver with a syringe was jailed for 10 years.

The weapon has also twice been used in successful escape bids by major Dublin criminals.

The Garda [police] Federation say more than 10 gardai have been stabbed with syringes, though none has yet proved HIV-positive. But a post office worker in Summerhill, just north of the city centre, has been forced to retire after contracting hepatitis C when stabbed in the hand with a syringe. The episode was caught on a security video and made unnerving viewing on Irish television.

Besides direct attacks, postal workers have had to contend with another hazard: discarded syringes tossed into post boxes. "They [postal workers] would open the box and scoop out the letters with their hand," a spokeswoman for An Post, the Irish postal service, said. "So they started using thick rubber gloves which the needle will not pierce."

The Communications Workers Union came up with a kit which every postal van in Dublin, Cork and Galway has now been issued with, including tweezers and a syringe-disposal bin.

Violents attacks on staff working in drug-ravaged areas means parcels are no longer delivered to homes in some parts of Dublin.