Dublin woman who suffered life-changing injuries in horrific knife attack calls for urgent reform of laws

By Alex Dunne

Ireland cannot afford to allow carrying knives to become as normal as carrying a phone or your wallet.

That's according to campaigner Ruth Maxwell, who survived a horrific knife assault from a serial sex offender while walking to a Dublin Luas stop.

Recent statistics from the gardai showed that nearly 1,000 knives were seized in the first half of 2021 - with the majority of those seizures in Dublin.

And Ruth believes that early intervention is key to prevent a generation of Irish kids from growing up with knives in their pockets.

She told RTE 2FM: "We can’t allow this kind of knife crime to become normalised. We can’t become complacent, we have a responsibility to intervene at this crucial stage of children's lives.

"How many kids are going out on a weekend evening, checking ‘have I got my phone, have I got my money, have I got my knife in my pocket’, it will become normalised.

"This is a lethal weapon, there’s a very high possibility that your life is in danger. I don’t think these young people even realise that."

Ruth joined host Jennifer Zamparelli to discuss the assault that changed her life forever.

She recalls: "I was just walking down to catch the Luas at the Red Cow in Clondalkin to go to work.

"It was about 20 to 7 in the morning. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, I had my sunglasses on and I was listening to music.

"Before I knew it these arms were around me, in the left hand was a cloth trying to get to my face, and in the other hand was a knife at my chin.

"Within seconds the knife had come down to my throat, but I was very lucky that I had my hand under my handbag strap on my shoulder.

"I just pulled the hand out, and grabbed the blade of the knife."

The knife lacerated Ruth's hand deep, but she barely had any time to digest what had happened.

She remembers: "Doing something like that, when you think you’re about to lose your life, it’s the whole aftermath…when this person had run and you’re just left standing there, with no knowledge of the road that’s lying ahead

"I didn’t think that my life was going to be changed dramatically.

"I had to run down a laneway, onto the main road. Very luckily two guys then came along."

The second man who arrived initially thought the first had assaulted Ruth, but after some explaining she calmed them both down and they got her help.

However, despite intense physiotherapy and a number of surgeries, the permanent damage remains.

The blade totally severed three tendons in her hand, and Ruth has never regained full movement in her fingers.

She said: "I just knew everything I could do physically was over for the foreseeable future.

"My hand was bandaged up, and there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t brush my hair, tie my shoelaces, get dressed.

"The first year was probably the most traumatic of my life."

Slawomir Gierlowski, 37, was jailed for 18-and-a half years in 2018 for three pre-meditated attacks on women over a five-year period in South Dublin after Ruth testified against him.

The roofer and father-of two, originally from Poland, sexually assaulted two women on separate dates as they walked home from a night out.

His third attempted assault was on Ruth, though she was able to fight him off.

But she describes the trial as "probably the loneliest road I think I’ve ever been on".

"I’m very independent anyway, but going through something like that… I didn’t have any supports or services," she said.

"There was nobody there to guide me through the whole process, and then to give me the tools to pick up all the pieces after it."

Ruth's occupational therapy occurred in the city centre, which brought her back to the Red Cow Luas stop on a regular basis in the months following the attack.

She said: "It was very difficult going passed where that happened.

"If I’m ever in the area or on the M50, I do glance up that direction."

Ruth believes that the whole subject of knife crime in Ireland needs to be overhauled.

She thinks that longer sentences are needed for serious offenders, but that better preventative measures are needed to combat knife crime among kids.

And she also thinks after-care for victims is in desperate need of improving.

She said: "When you’re looking at an offender that has no conscience, that’s where I feel we could look at the sentencing, and increase that from five years to ten years.

"But with younger offenders, I do think the Scottish approach, which is all about prevention and early intervention, that could be taken on board with the start of justice.

"We could have a community led approach led by the Department of Justice, An Garda Siochana, and probably someone like Safe Ireland, they could become the umbrella group for all victims of crime.

"There needs to be somewhere you can go immediately after something has happened, a company or an organisation that can guide you through the whole process, that you know you just have the one organisation to go to who will point you in every direction possible for supports and services."

Get the latest breaking news to your inbox by signing up to our free newsletter


What is inkl?

Important stories

See news based on value, not advertising potential. Get the latest news from around the world.

Trusted newsrooms

We bring you reliable news from the world’s most experienced journalists in the most trusted newsrooms.

Ad-free reading

Read without interruptions, distractions or intrusions of privacy.