Callous gang hits OAPs in 'distressing' spate of sick graveyard thefts
A sick Dublin gang is stealing cash and valuable items from vulnerable OAPs as they visit the graves of loved ones, the Herald can reveal.
The callous crew is breaking into the cars of bereaved friends and families parked outside graveyards across Co Wicklow.
An undercover garda operation is now under way across the county.
Armed gardai have also been deployed to tourist hotspots to target the Tallaght-based gang, which is responsible for a spate of crimes throughout the county.
There has been a big increase in thefts and burglaries in recent weeks, but gardai hope the situation may calm down after the arrest of a 22-year-old criminal who is thought to lead the gang.
"In their latest move, the crew have been targeting cars parked at graveyards," said a senior garda source.
Seven cars have been ransacked in one week alone.
Gang members either break into the vehicles or open unlocked doors.
Purses, cash, mobile phones and any other items left in the cars have been stolen by the heartless mob.
Its members are also thought to be responsible for a large number of "handbag snatches" from women in counties Carlow, Kildare and Wicklow.
August is an especially busy time at graveyards because it is when many the graves are blessed.
"People are visiting graves to place fresh flowers and plants on them and this gang has honed in on this fact and are targeting cars parked at the graveyards," said the source.
"Most of the victims have been women, who are typically in their 60s or 70s. It has been very distressing for them."
Cars have been targeted at graveyards in Bray, Arklow, Rathdrum and Laragh which has led gardai to set up a special "covert surveillance" operation in a bid to bust the thieves.
"These are not high-end thefts, but they are causing huge distress," said the source.
Gardai - determined to catch members of the Tallaght gang - are undertaking "overt" armed patrols of popular tourist destinations in Co Wicklow, and more discreet undercover operation at graveyards.
"When available, the Regional Support Unit (RSU) has been deployed to locations such as Glendalough, Aughrim and Enniskerry.
"These are highly popular tourist locations and there are concerns that tourists will be targeted by the organised crime gang.
"An overt armed garda presence sends a strong message that the activities of this gang will not be tolerated," said the gardai source.
The crime rate in Co Wicklow is at its highest level since gardai compiled a comprehensive list of 50 prolific burglars and serial theft offenders.
The list was compiled as part of a garda crackdown on the crime epidemic plaguing the east coast.
The efforts by Wicklow garda saw a dramatic drop in burglaries last year.
"These things often go around in cycles - what seems to have happened is that a number of Traveller criminals have been released from prison in recent months and they are simply causing chaos," said the source.
"But there has been a significant arrest, and a detailed policing plan is in place to target this crime gang."
Meanwhile, the Herald can reveal that gardai are expected to question a gang member who has been in hospital since he was injured in a car crash during a garda pursuit in the Blessington area.