Life on bikes

The moped gangs are here to stay…

Unless the UK’s Criminal Justice System changes, moped gangs are not going to be deterred enough to give up.

Some months ago we pointed out that the only way to deal with the scourge of moped riding criminals was dedicated tactical motorcycle teams.

The news that multiple police forces around the country are taking motorcycle crime seriously, with specialist teams on highly manoeuvrable bikes now set up in Bolton, Sheffield and London is hugely welcome.

The large operation in the West Midlands that saw 53 people arrested in 28 dawn raids across the region is also fantastic news.

So the police are doing their bit. Now we need the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales to step up too.

Moped gangs specialist team
© Met Police. The Met’s new team for dealing with moped gangs

Reality check

We recently covered the story of a Biker & Bike reader who caught a bike thief, getting threatened with an angle grinder and stabbed in the process. The reward for his actions? A paltry six-month sentence for the criminal. Hardly a deterrent, especially as they will likely be out in three months.

In May 2017 there were 2,280 moped-related offences recorded in London. A suspect was charged in only 1.7% of cases.

The truth is, unless there is a significant change to the criminal justice system – and that is unlikely – then the moped gangs are not only here to stay, their perceived success means that more criminals will adopt their methods.

We are talking specifically here of the gangs who steal motorbikes and mopeds from streets, using peds to scout for bikes or bike jacking opportunities and then push stolen bikes away from the theft location.

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These people are also involved in street muggings and wider crime, such as attacks on high-value stores like jewellers.

Until recently they were pretty much limited to London. Now they operate in other major cities including Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle and Manchester.

There are two reasons why they are doing it and getting away with it:

Lack of resources

It is almost impossible with current police resources to respond to an attack by a moped gang. By the time someone has placed a call to the police the attackers are long gone.

Forces like London’s Metropolitan Police have set up special operations, such as Operation Venice, to focus the limited manpower they have left after drastic cutbacks on gathering data on known suspects and then arrest them after the fact.

Anecdotally in London, at least, there seems to be no significant impact. Near the Biker & Bike offices in Central London, you can see moped teams operating openly without having to wait too long for them to go by.

With the new dedicated team announced this week, plus a 24/7 operations room dedicated to reports of moped-enabled crime, we hope there will be a change. But the single team of four riders is not enough to cover a city of London’s size.

Under 24 rule

The other significant reason is that criminals arrested under the age of 24 are unlikely to go to prison. Unless they have committed a significant crime such as a stabbing, acid attack or it can be proved they have been responsible for many bike thefts, they are being kept out of jail by the Criminal Justice System. It is geared towards giving young offenders not just second chances but has meant that suspects have been arrested 80-100 times without receiving custodial sentences.

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As there is no room in British prisons, unlike the Dutch penal system which is closing jails because there aren’t enough offenders to fill them, we don’t see this situation changing.

Because of this, even if the police’s guidelines on pursuits are eased, as they look certain to be, individual officers must think long and hard before engaging in pursuits that could lead to injury or death, when actually it’s just not worth it. In the words of a serving officer, “Why take so much risk, when there is so little chance the guy we are chasing will go to jail?”

To use a topical example, Henry Hicks wasn’t involved in a police pursuit. He died by losing control of his vehicle when the police were some distance away. Yet you only have to look at the vilification and prosecution of the police officers who were conducting a legitimate ‘follow’ operation to understand why other officers will stand down as soon as they perceive a danger to themselves, the public or the suspect they are following.

That said, we have been told a Bill is soon to be put in front of Parliament that will have a significant affect on pursuits. We will, of course, support it fully. It’s just not the full solution.

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The bike manufacturers won’t play ball

We have been critical of the role motorcycle manufacturers play in bike crime. While the Master Scheme should be lauded, it’s not enough.

But here’s another reality check. The motorcycle industry is a global business, and other countries have nowhere near the same problems as the UK. We’ve even seen social media posts where bikes are left with the keys in, in some countries.

Not in the UK though. It’s us that has the problem. While we think there is much that the industry can and should do, especially with electronic and mechanical devices that can properly disable a stolen bike within seconds of a theft, the reality is the global market has other technology demands, such as traction control and anti-wheelie kit.

Why should the managers in Japan, Italy and even our own manufacturer in Hinckley place so much emphasis on security when it is only a few markets that have a real problem?

More Tactical Motorcycle Teams needed

We very firmly believe that, when moped gangs are openly operating on major city’s streets, the only solution is to have police tactical motorcycle teams. We have said this before, and others believe the same.

This is why we are openly supporting the Met’s new ’scrambler’ team and call for at least four more teams with the same equipment and training.

moped gangs
© Met Police. The success of a dedicated team in Islington has led to permanent team.

We also ask that they are allowed to conduct stop and search. They will find weapons of the kind described by many bikers on the receiving end of bike-jackings: machetes, hammers and bottles filled with acid; and the tools used for stealing motorbikes: bolt-croppers and battery-powered angle grinders.

And we ask that these same teams are set up in all major cities, to prevent the moped gang disease spreading any further. In our humble opinion, no other measures are going to significantly deal with these gangs.

If they know there is very little chance of being caught and even then they get nothing more than a slap on the wrist, the only thing left to do is hound them off the streets.

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We want to see their mugging and TWOKing operations disrupted so frequently there’s little chance of them not spending 24 hours in custody at least two to three times per week. By sheer persistence, piss them off so they go and find another, less tiresome, activity.

Wake up, Home Secretary

Disrupting the gangs’ activities is clearly not going to be enough to stop the rot. Moped gangs are going to increase in number under the current Criminal Justice System – because even with increased arrests, there is no custodial incentive for them to give up.

Now the police are doing their bit; the Home Secretary must do the same, and call for significant sentences to be handed out to anyone who continues to persist in motorcycle related crime.

Anything less and all the work being done by the cops at street level is going to be wasted.

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The Author

Ian Malone

Ian Malone

Ian is the Editor and a co-founder of Biker & Bike.

He is obsessed about bikes to the point that he often starts conversations with new people by saying, "Please don't get me onto the subject of bikes. We'll be here all day."

Inevitably, the next question asked is nearly always, "What bike have you got, then?"

He owns five bikes right now:

'78 Kawasaki Z650
'97 Triumph Daytona 955i
'11 Triumph Tiger 800
'09 Yamaha R1
'88 Suzuki TS125X

At any one time, only two of these bikes are ever working, as you can read about on our blog.