I have been working in the British motorcycle industry for over 20 years and have been a rider for 25 years. This is the first time in both my professional and riding career that I am truly afraid of something other than having a life changing accident.
Over the last two years we have witnessed the growing threat of a new crime, that of motorcycle and scooter theft that has risen in an unprecedented way.
As a motorcycle shop owner in North London I am in constant daily contact with the victims of these crimes. Firstly, by seeing my customers who are having their vehicles stolen and secondly, from my friends, family and staff who, themselves have been victims of crime committed on these stolen vehicles.
Recently, a member of my staff on his way to work one morning was a victim of an attempted robbery by a scooter gang and another friend of mine had her handbag stolen in the same way.
I have heard horrific and terrifying stories from customers who have had their motorcycles or scooters stolen, two at knife point, one was attacked with a baseball bat and another pushed to the floor and kicked repeatedly. We have heard of gangs standing at the side of roads swinging long chains into the air to knock passing riders off their vehicles so they can jump on the grounded bike. Every single day when going about my daily business I see gangs riding on the pavement, straight through red lights, over pedestrian crossings on bikes and scooters with no number plates, the riders only wearing hoodies and balaclavas. Sometimes they are pushing their latest steal with their feet blatantly along the roads in broad daylight. They intimidate anyone, both pedestrian and road users, who cross their paths.
I could go on and on with more and more horror stories like these that I hear of every day, but frankly there is no point. What needs to be discussed is why this is happening and what we can to do stop it before someone is killed.
Let’s deal with some facts. Regardless of what the population of law abiding citizens believe, the police are doing everything in their power to stop this epidemic. There are only a small number of police units authorised to chase suspected motorcycle gangs. These chases then must cease if there is a danger to human life – both to the public and to the riders of the vehicles they are chasing. Ask yourself this question before criticising the police: being an officer is a job, so should you as an officer be involved in a chase where anyone, including the suspect, could be injured or killed during the chase? You as an officer performing your duties could then be suspended and investigated, face criminal proceedings and private law suits. Would you put yourself in this situation when the law is clearly at fault?
Next, let’s look at the suspects being caught. The officers then must make sure the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) is willing to take the matter further and be sure they will get a conviction. Many factors affect this decision, such as the strength of evidence in the case, number of offences, previous criminal history and so on. If the CPS do take a chance in court and the suspect is found guilty the next factor is that sentencing is not realistic to reflect the crime. Prisons are overcrowded and understaffed so Judges tend to look towards suspended sentencing and community orders over custodial sentencing because there are simply not enough resources to deal with prison sentences. Plus, Judges can only sentence according to current guidelines.
It is the job of the Police to preserve life and to enforce the law, and overall, they to this to the best of their abilities regardless of cuts to personnel and budgets. However, if the cash is not there for the staff required and the laws are protecting the offenders, what on earth does the public expect officers to do in this situation? I work very closely with the Police, I always have done and always will do and I can tell you that of all the officers I speak to, the ones on the “front line”, are in total despair of not being able to do the job they are expected by the public to do.
I am afraid for the future. I live in a constant state of alert both when riding and when at my workplace. Many motorcycle dealers have been targeted by these gangs in shocking robberies and break-ins and have had increasing levels of threatening behaviour and violence against them.
I see these offenders every day, out and about and their behaviour sickens me and makes me despair at their complete lack of fear of any repercussions for their actions. They laugh in the face of police officers knowing they are powerless against them. There is no fear of what happens should they be caught and they threaten severe injury against anyone who tries to defend themselves against their vicious behaviour.
The main question needs to be what can we do about this situation?
I have frequently been hearing of people taking the law into their own hands, setting up a “bait” motorcycle and waiting for someone to come along and steal it. I certainly do not condone violence, however I do see why some may feel the law has let them down and taking matters into their own hands is the only option. 90% of my customers use their scooters and motorcycles to commute. They work hard to buy their vehicles, maintain them and insure them. Some, such as couriers, rely totally on their vehicle as part of their job so they face loss of earnings on top of the loss of their vehicles after a theft. If their vehicles are recovered they face potential storage charge by police storage facilities that can amount to hundreds of pounds and then a huge repair bill to make the vehicle road worthy again. If the vehicle is written off, the owner is then at the mercy of their insurance company and may walk away with nothing after any voluntary excess has been considered.
Before the argument of social inequality begins and discussions about why young people turn to crime in the first place or how disadvantaged they are, let’s make it clear that most of the victims of these crimes are working class people, a lot of the time earning minimum wage and who could also have come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The new wave of delivery companies – as bad as some may think they are due to the self-employed and zero hours contract nature of the job – could also be seen as an opportunity for young people to earn a living whilst still in education as they offer the flexibility needed for this. Therefore, it could be said that choosing to use scooters to commit crime rather than doing an honest, legitimate job, is a choice rather than the result of unfortunate circumstances.
The National Motorcycle Dealers Association has been working with the Police and voicing their concerns over what we in the motorcycle industry can do to help. The response has been an attempt to encourage motorcycle owners to secure their property. This has flabbergasted me. How can you secure your vehicle against armed robbers with battery powered angle grinders and knives? No lock or chain is impenetrable at the hands of an angle grinder and a motorcycle can be lifted and put into a van with all wheels locked by only two people, as so many of us have already seen on YouTube. Many people live in rented accommodation and do not have the facilities to install ground anchors and securing points. Furthermore, carrying half a ton of security equipment around with you is simply not possible. The authorities are relying on garages and dealers such as myself to pass on the message of security to our customers is simply clutching at straws. We DO have a duty of care to our customers and we DO pass on all information provided by the authorities, we have long conversations with customers about safety and security all day every day. We stock all the security devises and equipment we can but it is simply useless in the face of street robbery. The burden should certainly not fall on honest tax-payers who work hard for their money.
Another group believe that the onus lays all at the feet of manufactures of the vehicles. They believe it is the responsibility of the manufactures to fit better devices to their vehicles to prevent theft. Again, this solution is so deeply floored. Firstly, how long will it take all manufactures to design and fit these devices? Secondly, 70% of motorcycles and scooters purchased in the UK are second hand and over 2 years old. I will repeat that a lot of the victims are working class people, they do not ride brand new vehicles. This solution is, I am afraid, a total cop out.
The Mayor of London and the press seemed very concerned with the recent spell of acid attacks on riders. Considering the increase of over 15,000 recorded motorcycle related crimes from last year, in my view that shows that the aim of these criminals – as well as stealing for personal gain – is also to spread terror and fear amongst us. I fear that the numbers will rise even more and the crimes will become more and more violent.
The solution is one that lays at the feet of the legislators in this country. Powers must be given to the Police to chase these riders, it is after all against the law to ride without a crash helmet in this country, and the criminals are making a conscious choice to do this. Harsher sentencing MUST be enforced, and laws need to be changed to do this. The solution is out there, however our lawmakers need to step up and act NOW.
In the meantime, I watch the news and read various press articles relating to this situating with the inevitable eye roll that follows.
We as a population are experiencing the revival of the modern highway man, only this time around “stand and deliver” has been replaced with “give me your bike or I’ll stab you”. And they seem to be doing it more and more simply because they can.