The last thing David Browne remembers is one of his attackers threatening to stab him unless he gave up the security code to his iPhone. Moments later, Browne was on the ground in Dublin city centre being kicked repeatedly in the face by a gang of young men.
Later in hospital the 21-year-old was diagnosed with two fractures to the jaw. The Kildare man was in severe pain and could feel his jaw bone and teeth “swimming around” in his mouth following the attack.
“Where my jaw was fractured, my teeth had more or less sunken down and there were big gaps that hadn’t been there before. I couldn’t move my mouth and the swelling had started,” he says.
Since the attack last weekend he has undergone surgery to have pins inserted into his jaw bone. They will be a permanent addition. He faces six to eight weeks of a liquid diet until his jaw recovers. He laughs about the fact he may lose a bit of weight.
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Browne is physically and mentally scarred from his ordeal, not helped by what he describes as a poor initial response from the Garda. As a gay man, he says, the group attack on him has also served to reinforce his decision to conceal his sexuality in public for fear of becoming “a target”.
He had spent last Saturday night socialising in central Dublin with friends at Mother nightclub on Grafton Street. At about 4am he and two others decided to go to a party in the city centre. They were making their way on foot up the boardwalk on Bachelors Walk on the north quays when Browne noticed a group of at least six men “closing in”. One of the men snatched Browne’s iPhone and the first blows began, as those around him demanded he disclose the access code for the phone.
“I was hit a few more times and the guy who had the phone was still trying to get the passcode,” he said. “I wasn’t giving it to him, but that’s when his friend started to get quite aggressive with me. He was shouting at me for the passcode; ‘give it to me now or I’m going to stab you’.
“At that moment I just said to myself: ‘Okay, I’m just going to give it to him and hopefully that’s all he wants.’ I don’t really remember much after that, it’s a bit of a blur. But I remember being on the ground and them kicking me in the face.”
His two friends, also gay men, fled without being robbed or injured. “And I don’t blame them, I’d have run too if I had the chance,” says Browne.
After the attack he managed to pick himself up, covered in blood. With no phone to call for help, he ran to nearby Pearse Street Garda station. Nobody was at the public desk and though he “called for help”, no one came out to deal with him.
He knocked on windows at the front of the station and into a back office. He could see lights on and people – he assumes gardaí – moving about. Despite alternating between knocking on the public counter inside the station and on the windows outside, he said it took a prolonged period before anyone came to his aid. He believes gardaí mistook him for a nuisance or “drunken” caller to the station.
Eventually, a garda attended to him, asking him to outline the attack, taking his personal details and requesting a phone number for someone they could contact on his behalf. The garda also took photographs of his injured face “on a digital camera for the case file”.
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Browne said he was “in a lot of pain” and accepted the offer of the garda to call an ambulance, which took him to St James’s Hospital.
“I just remember getting to the hospital, I never cried so much in my life. I don’t know whether it was relief or shock. The swelling was just insane the day after the surgery, crazy. But it’s starting to go down slowly but surely,” he said, adding that his parents had been “just brilliant; waking up at all hours of the morning to give me pain medication”.
“Like myself, they’re just so grateful that the injuries are things that will heal,” he said.
In reply to queries, An Garda Síochána Headquarters said they had “received a report of an incident of robbery” on Bachelors Walk last Sunday. They confirmed the victim was taken to hospital by ambulance, with the investigation ongoing though no arrests had been made.
Browne said he was unsure if the attack was related to his sexuality. He said “slurs” were not used by the attackers. He believed the incident was an “opportunist robbery” with his iPhone 13, costing about €900 new, the main target. He later found his iPhone was no longer recognised under his iCloud login. That suggested to him the phone had been “wiped clean” for sale, reinforcing his belief the attack was a robbery rather than motivated by homophobia. However, the ordeal has given him cause to reflect on the ever-present risk he feels as a gay man.
“It was so strange because when I was attacked I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “I always thought in my mind, ‘Okay, it’s going to happen at some stage because there’s some people who just don’t like the sight of us’. So I just always thought, ‘it’s going to happen at some stage and I hope it’s not too bad when it does’.
“Whenever I had a boyfriend there’d be a conversation to say ‘we’re not going to hold hands, we’re not going to hug or to kiss, we’re not going to do any of this in public, we’re just going to act like friends’. It’s just not the done thing, you don’t show affection in public. I definitely hide away the elements [of being gay] when I’m in public because, for the wrong person, it’s just a target on your head.”