Page last updated at 17:32 GMT, Friday, 19 June 2009 18:32 UK

Public 'at risk' from rival gangs

A biker arrives for the Bulldog Bash (pic: Rui Vieira/PA Wire)
The event is attended by thousands of people

The jailing of seven bikers for their part in rioting between two rival gangs at an airport has prompted police to call again for an annual biker event to be cancelled.

Organisers of the Bulldog Bash, held at Long Marston airfield in Warwickshire every August, were granted a 10-year licence last year, despite police opposition.

But police said the recent escalation in violence between the Outlaws and Hells Angels, gangs which have an ongoing feud that stretches back 40 years, means innocent members of the public could be put at risk.

But a spokesman for the organisers said they were "deeply disappointed" by the allegations being made by police and said they were unfounded.

Seven men from the two rival gangs were each jailed for six years on Friday after a brawl at Birmingham Airport's Terminal Two last January.

But on top of that incident, 35-year-old Hells Angel Gerry Tobin was shot dead on the nearby M40 in Warwickshire after leaving the Bulldog Bash in 2007.

The seven men later jailed for his murder turned out to be the entire Chapter of the South Warwickshire Outlaws, based in Coventry.

It is a matter of official record that over many years, outlaw motorcycle clubs have been actively engaged in organised crime
Asst Ch Con Bill Holland

Peter Wilson, BBC Midlands Today's crime correspondent, said there had been a vast expansion of chapters across the globe since the 1990s.

The growth has also been linked to organised crime and increasingly bitter violence as rival gangs have fought over the drug trade.

Warwickshire Police have said they also believe the Bulldog Bash is used to raise funds for the Hells Angels, which they say is an organised criminal gang.

The force said it prepared to go to court to try to get it stopped.

Bill Holland, Assistant Chief Constable, said although the majority of the 20,000 people who attend the festival are law-abiding, they are not fully aware of the true illegal behaviour of outlaw motorcycle clubs.

"It is a matter of official record that over many years, outlaw motorcycle clubs have been actively engaged in organised crime," he said.

Gerry Tobin
Gerry Tobin was shot dead on a motorway after the Bulldog Bash

"Their activities have included murder, extortion, robbery, prostitution, drugs and firearms offences.

"There is a clear, evidenced, and significant risk to innocent members of the public if the Bulldog Bash is allowed to take place.

"The Hells Angels are an organised crime group, as are the Outlaws."

He said the two groups were not just passionately interested in motorbikes - "there's something more sinister going on here to do with organised crime".

Mr Holland added: "My purpose in opposing the Bash is primarily to protect the public from harm, directly through being caught up in some sort of attack, particularly going to and from the event, but also recognising that the proceeds of the event go to the Hells Angels, who are themselves an organised crime group."

In a statement, a spokesman for the Bash said it is a "well run, well regulated and tightly controlled commercial event" with any profit re-invested.

"In 22 years, there has never been a serious incident - events off site are beyond the control of the organisers as accepted by Stratford council last year when they granted us a ten-year licence," a spokesman said.

"There is absolutely no evidence of any threat of 'serious harm' to the public - in the past the police and the local council have actually praised the safety and organisation of the event."

If the festival does go ahead, the force would conduct a major security operation.

'Benefited traders'

It called for a review of the event's licence earlier this year but it was rejected by Stratford-on-Avon District Council in May.

Some people living near to the airfield said the police operation in 2008 caused disruption to villagers, with one resident saying it was "over-the-top".

Last month, villagers were consulted about future policing of the event.

Morris House, from Quinton Parish Council, said most villagers welcomed the festival as it benefited local traders.

But with less than two months until the event takes place, Mr Holland has acknowledged that he has to act quickly if he is to succeed.

He said: "I am still taking legal advice as to how best to get the licence withdrawn for 2009.

"It's proving to be a very long, drawn out, and difficult process, but I am persevering with that."

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