Life on bikes

Moped Justice Part 1: The police are wrong to ram

Tasking the police with dishing out punishment to moped criminals in the guise of preventative medicine may seem like a nice idea, but the reality of a constabulary unfettered by the constraints of ‘reasonable force’ is a dreadful proposition, writes Kevin Turner

In Moped Justice Part 2: Ramming is justified and long overdue, Biker & Bike’s editor argues the new police tactic is exactly what’s needed.

There is something deeply satisfying about watching a criminal on a stolen moped bounce down the road following a clout from a pursuing police car. It is as though the world isn’t an entirely unjust place after all; that now and again those deserving of such do indeed receive their comeuppance…and if that is accompanied by a snapped tibia or a shattered spine then so much the better.

I read the comments on Facebook that accompanied Biker and Bike’s video of these moped-riding miscreants taking a wallop at the hands (or bonnets) of the law and the theme was almost universally agreeable. In fact, if the coppers had pulled over after de-biking the little urchins and finished them off with a tyre jack, one had the sense that the thread would have blurred into meltdown.

And why not? How often do we read about genuine criminals getting off lightly while some poor bugger gets 18 months for raising the front wheel of his R1 on a Sunday morning blast?

The world is an unfair place and anything that restores some semblance of balance will likely go down well with those of us who work hard and pay our taxes. It’s like watching a rapist being castrated or a paedophile hurled into a pit of wolves; there is a gratifying sense of retribution to be found among the gnashing of fangs and the slicing of cartilage. A natural and universal sense of justice.

But natural justice rarely tallies with the kind of justice one expects to receive in a civil society, where law and order are determined by elected representatives and dished out by an accountable judiciary.

Operation Venice is nothing but cheap PR

The footage of those moped riders getting punted down the road by the police had very little, if anything, to do with justice in the contemporary sense of the word. It was all about vengeance, in a biblical sense. An eye for an eye and a wheelchair for a 14-year-old out for a joy ride.

Believe me when I say it physically pains me to side with Diane Abbott over this of all things, but with the exception of some extreme instances – generally involving the rider carrying firearms/acid or having been identified as a terror threat – there is no good reason why the police should be ramming people off their mopeds or motorcycles. It is a desperate act informed by a need to demonstrate to the rest of us that plod is not to be fucked with.

Moped criminals
One moped rider has already been killed following a pursuit by police

That Theresa May has now endorsed Operation Venice should be accepted as proof positive by any right-minded person that this policy is nothing but cheap PR. “These people on these mopeds are acting unlawfully and committing crimes and I think it’s absolutely right that we see a robust police response to that” she explained, at once highlighting how lazy and simplistic this whole affair is.

“Acting unlawfully”, “committing crimes” – there is no sense of scale or proportion here. If I stole a Mars Bar from Waitrose I’d be acting unlawfully and committing a crime; should I then expect to be hurled over the roof of a police car once outside the store?

You cannot have a one-size-fits-all response to crime simply because it involves a moped. That is absurd. Make no mistake, this is not about preventing crime; this about dishing out punishment and that is not what the police force is there for. Punishment is what happens after the police have apprehended a suspect and they have been tried and found guilty; you don’t punish a suspect, you punish a criminal.

It is likely the case that many of these riders are petty thieves or antisocial louts, perhaps violent muggers, mobile phone thieves…the list goes on; there’s a whole gamut of criminal activity that can be facilitated by a moped, but all of it, without exception, should be dealt with under the guise of a transparent and effective – which I concede is often not the case – legal system, not by mandating the police as judge, jury and executioner.

About now I imagine many readers are probably thinking: ok mate, how would you tackle moped crime? What’s your great solution to this epidemic you bleeding-hearted tit?

Truth is, there is no simple answer to this. Anyone who suggests otherwise is either an understandably aggrieved victim, the editor of a newspaper, an outraged armchair pundit, or someone in authority with a desperate need to win over public opinion because their career prospects are going down the pan.

This is a problem that has its roots buried deep in a society that is failing itself and is being failed by consecutive governments, and while I may not know how to fix the problem, I am not convinced that bringing the police down to the level of the criminal is any kind of solution.

I do not want to see the police emasculated, but neither do I want to see them mandated to use potentially lethal force when the circumstances do not demand it. We should not be risking someone’s life because they’ve stolen a mobile phone or grabbed someone’s wallet. If this is really about apprehending those involved, and not about show-boating on Facebook, then the police have alternative measures; stingers, rapidly-inflating air barriers; Jesus, a big fucking net would be safer, and likely just as effective, as being hit at speed by a car (and the tax-payer wouldn’t have to fork out for the damage to the patrol car!).

moped criminals
Another moped rider ended up in hospital after a police pursuit

Make no mistake, if the police are pursuing someone whom they have reasonable grounds to suspect has just battered an old lady with a crowbar, then ‘tactically’ knocking them off their scooter is arguably justified as a means of protecting public safety, as would be the case for shooting a dangerous suspect in the process of deploying a firearm. But if they are chasing down someone believed to have stolen a mobile phone then the same response is completely disproportionate; you do not shoot someone for pickpocketing, even if it is done on a moped.

Admittedly, this would reduce the number of pickpockets on our streets, and assuage those ranting on Facebook about our ‘namby-pamby, limp-wristed state’. But do we really want to degrade our rule of law to appease the impotent rage of a few social media commentators?

Ah, but you are missing a very important point Turner; this policy is working. We know that because the Met themselves have told us that bike crime in London has fallen dramatically since Operation Venice was rolled out (albeit the Met’s initial headline-grabbing 44% drop fell to 36% following a ‘correction’ and who knows how accurate that latest figure is).

But if this is true, no matter the percentage, then maybe I am just a detached, middle-class liberal who knows jack-shit about the big city problems I left behind when I fled London to raise my children in greener pastures. But then again, maybe the statistics are not quite as clear-cut as they have been presented to us by those who have a vested interest in promoting the headline success rates. Maybe knocking young people off scooters is making no difference at all and the owners of these vehicles are just taking more care to secure them, preventing the criminals from getting their grubby little mitts on them in the first place. Statistics are too easily manipulated to mean much, particularly when the subject matter is so emotive and powerful people have a lot to gain by cherry picking the big numbers.

The police and now the government are presenting this policy as a means of preventing moped-related violent crime in London, but that is fantasy. This is about getting Jo Public onside with a cheap gimmick because the authorities have singularly failed to manage down violent crime in London over the last decade; if we can’t beat them, beat them. Beat the mortal shit out of them and make it look like the police have a handle on this mess.

This is not how law and order in civil society should work. This is what happens in lawless regimes; the kind of places we thank our lucky stars we did not grow up in. The kind of regimes good people died fighting against. And this is the fundamental concern; it is not about being too liberal or too timid to tackle crime, or about putting the criminals’ rights above those of the victim. This is about fundamentally changing what law and order and justice and policing mean in this country. By transitioning the ‘punishment’ element away from the courts and into the hands of bobbies on the beat, as it were, we are removing the checks and balances so fundamental to our judicial system. It is a not-so-small step towards authoritarianism, which is a popular concept when viewed through the lens of the tabloid press but a pretty gruesome reality that we should fear and despise in equal measure.


Well, let’s return to our friend on his brand new R1; out for a blast on a Sunday morning and getting a little giddy on the throttle, he decides to screw it on hard for a moment of sheer pleasure, only to find himself moments later bouncing off the bonnet of an undercover Audi, the highly-trained police officer at the wheel having determined that he is a menace to public safety and needs stopping at all costs. Should we applaud the response?
Because in an authoritarian society there is no difference whatsoever in punting off the R1 rider for breaking one law and punting off some lad thrashing his stolen Gilera round Tower Hamlets for breaking another.


In Moped Justice Part 2: Ramming is justified and long overdue, Biker & Bike’s editor argues the new police tactic is exactly what’s needed.

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The Author

Kevin Turner

Kevin Turner

Kevin is a freelance writer, columnist for Motorcycle Explorer Magazine, and author of two travel books, Bonjour! Is This Italy? A Hapless Biker’s Guide to Europe and From Crystal Palace to Red Square: A Hapless Biker’s Road to Russia.

Despite his love of travel, Kevin stoically insists on riding an ’02 Ninja. He has cherished the bike - worth less than a good set of leathers - for over a decade; it's getting to be embarrassing.