Pregnant girl guilty of 'distraction thefts'

A pregnant 17-year-old girl who was arrested last week as part of “Operation Hawkeye”, a Garda crackdown on so-called distraction thefts from people at ATMs, has been remanded in custody pending sentence.

Judge Patrick McMahon said at the Dublin Children’s Court that the girl, who stole about €1,200 in a spate of thefts, was “a danger to the citizens of this city”.

He refused pleas to grant bail and remanded her in custody to Oberstown Girls’ Centre to allow time for a pre-sentence probation report to be obtained.

On Friday last week, 12 people were arrested by gardaí as part of Operation Hawkeye, which targeted a gang which allegedly specialise in thefts at ATMs, pubs, and coffee shops.

Searches had been carried out at properties in Tallaght and the North Circular Road areas. Eight were released on bail and two people, including the girl, were remanded in custody.

Today, the girl, who is from Romania, pleaded guilty to 13 charges; half related to thefts from people at ATMs. The remaining charges were for connected offences for possessing folded newspapers for use in the course of thefts.

Judge Patrick McMahon was told that the girl, who was accompanied to court by her husband, was pregnant and had come to Ireland in January.

All of her crimes were committed over the last three months. Sums of €200 were separately stolen from six women as they made cash withdrawals at bank machines in Dublin city-centre.

The court heard the stolen money was not recovered. It was explained to judge that the newspaper is used to block the victim’s user of the ATM while their money is being stolen. One woman was attacked by others with the girl when she had money stolen from them, the court was also told.

Defence solicitor John Quinn pleaded for the girl to be given an opportunity to work with the Probation Service to divert her from criminal activities.

He said the girl’s parents were presently in Romania and would not be coming back to Ireland for another two weeks. He pleaded with the court to take into consideration that that she was a juvenile and had no previous convictions.

Judge McMahon agreed that the girl had no prior convictions but said most of the incidents happened on different days.

The girl, who was dressed in a pink top and blue jeans, spent time fixing her long black hair while the judge was considering the case.

Over the last year a number of teenagers from the Roma community have been appearing before the Dublin Children’s Court in connection with slick thefts of money from people at ATMs.

Earlier the court had heard a step by step account of how the scam, which involves the use of distraction and sleight of hand, worked.

Step One: A person goes to the ATM, inserts the bank card and then keys in the PIN number.

Step Two: Just then, the person is approached by people who wave a magazine in front of his face and blocks the ATM screen and keypad.

Step Three: While the person is distracted one of them, unseen, presses the button telling the machine withdraw €200. The money pops out and is taken swiftly while the account holder is distracted and oblivious to what is happening.

Step Four: Eventually the thief backs off, the person looks at the screen which reads “transaction completed” but sees no money. A later check of their bank balance shows, however, that €200 has been withdrawn.

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