16/05/2017 19:16 BST | Updated 16/05/2017 19:30 BST

Vigilante Motorcycle Groups Forming In London To Combat Moped Crime Wave

'If the police don’t give a shit it’s about time we did something'.

London’s motorcycle theft and moped-assisted crime wave has led to claims angry bikers are recruiting vigilantes to take on criminal gangs.

A leaflet calling for victims of motorcycle thefts to unite and “sort ‘em” was said to have been recently posted on the noticeboard at London biker haunt, the Ace Cafe, an iconic meeting place for riders.

The notice at the cafe, in north west London, reads: “Had your bike stolen recently? Want to catch these fuckers? Sort ‘em? Come Tmax hunting with Jack Th’ Lad”. 

The reference to ‘TMAX hunting’ is related to crime gangs’ preference for the high-powered scooter.

According to the Bike and Biker website, the notice has also been handed out to bikers visiting the cafe and has been shared widely across social media.

The Ace Cafe on Tuesday confirmed the notice had appeared there briefly, but distanced itself from it saying it was “not something we support”.

The website said motorcycle thefts and crime had reached “boiling point, with biker vigilantes being openly recruited to form a response to the criminal gangs terrorising the Capital’s motorcyclists”.

The website noted that while the leaflet was targeted at Londoners, vigilante calls had also gone out in other cities including Bristol, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Liverpool.

It also claimed, because of its stance on motorcycle theft, the website had received a “number of direct approaches from bikers offering to form vigilante groups”.

Superintendent Mark Payne of Operation Venice, a police team set-up to target moped-assisted crime, told Huffpost UK that the Met “does not support activities by individuals or groups who target suspected criminals”.

He said individuals or groups who “target potentially violent criminals could be putting themselves at risk” and advised anyone who witnesses motorcycle thefts to contact police. 

He added: “This type of action could jeopardise or interfere with ongoing investigations, and our advice to anyone who has information about a suspect or witnesses a crime is to contact police as soon as possible so it can be investigated and, where possible, bring people to justice.”

Payne also said revealing the identity of a potential suspect could also “give them the opportunity to destroy evidence” before police become involved.

Crimes involving mopeds, often used by youths to steal mobile phones from pedestrians, by gangs to target and steal motorcycles, and as getaway vehicles, have soared in London during the past two years despite Operation Venice forming to target it

There were 11,389 moped-enabled crimes in London last year, a seven-fold increase on 2015, the Evening Standard reported earlier this month when pictures emerged of a suspected thief riding pillion while armed with a hammer. 

In 2015, motorcycle thefts in London were said to be have netted criminals £28 million a year.

While HuffPost UK has not seen the leaflet left at the Ace Cafe, the sentiment has been echoed across social media in recent months, especially on a Facebook page, London Motorcycle Crime, which is dedicated to sharing motorcycle theft videos. 

A post in March on the page, showing a moped gang stealing a motorcycle in central London while crowds of people watch on, prompted hundreds of comments, many of which endorsed vigilante action.

Jesus Woodward was one of hundreds of disgruntled bikers to comment on the post, entitled ‘Your bike ain't safe anywhere’.

The 30-year-old wrote: “I got a spare bike, anyone wanna bait the cunts? If the police don’t give a shit it’s about time we did something... bait bike up London and fill a transit van with the lads and bats.”

Woodward told HuffPost UK the comment, which was dismissed by some commenters as “just talk from a keyboard warrior”, was “flippant”, but admitted it had been prompted by the increasing frequency and brazenness of motorcycle thefts across the UK. 

“You should have seen my inbox, I got hundreds of messages, basically saying ‘bro, let me know where, I’m in... I’ve got a spare bike, or a van’, and asking me to set up a small group,” he explained. 

Some of the comments following Woodward’s Facebook post included:

“Hell yeah, I’d be all over that count me in too. It’s the only way to stop them... vigil anti shit!!!

“Bout time some one baits them if the police aint (sic) coz there to busy catching people driving on there phones now.”

“If it’s happening inbox me.”

“We need 10 men so it’s 2 onto 1 every time.”

“yeah we need to do a sting!! Expect them to be tooled up and chemicals to launch in ya face but if we’re ready we can stop them.”

While Woodward, of Chingford, is increasingly frustrated by how “ridiculous” and overt motorcycle thefts have become, he told HuffPost UK he does not advocate vigilante action as thieves are often heavily armed, “and it will get more than physical if people try and apprehend them”.

“I laughed a bit about (writing) that comment (on Facebook), but really it isn’t funny,” he said.

“There’s been times I’ve contemplated it. Of setting up a bait bike and waiting, filming it, and putting it up on YouTube... just so the cops can see, ‘shit, there’s vigilantes now’... but I’m busy with my life. I don’t want to sit around London waiting for something to happen.”

Woodward explained this to many of the motorcyclists who messaged him directly following his Facebook comment and was told “that I’m a bit of a cunt, that I shouldn’t have said anything”.

Woodward added: “I had a look at the profiles (of those who had messaged him) and they were people from all walks of life, united by this. It is going to happen. 

“Personally I think it is very close to coming to that. I know one person who already set out to do it. He waited five hours (in a van, waiting for thieves to steal his motorcycle), but nothing came of it.”

Woodward, who has been riding motorcycles for about seven years, has had two stolen during the last year. One was behind a gate “that opens only by a remote”, at his girlfriend’s house, near Bromley. The other was swiped off the street in Walthamstow, east London, during the day, while secured by a disc-lock and a heavy chain. 

PA Archive/PA Images
CCTV footage issued by Metropolitan Police of armed robbers who tried to smash their way into Watches of Switzerland in New Bond Street, London, using a moped, a sledgehammer and an axe

“Apparently they got out of a van with some scaffolding, two men to a side, and just lifted the whole thing into the back of a van and drove off,” he explained. 

Woodward credits the rise in popularity of Bike Life, a UK movement set around performing stunts on motorcycles, as going “hand in hand” with the rise in motorcycle thefts. While not implying the movement was involved in crime, Woodward said it had supercharged the popularity of motorcycles, which in turn had inspired young people to acquire them “however they could”.  

The Biker and Bike website noted that the decision to place the vigilante notice at the Ace Cafe was of particular significance “because it is widely understood that members of the gangs have been attending the hugely popular ‘Bike Nights’ held at the cafe. The note may be seen as an open warning to them that their presence is no longer tolerated.”

The website noted that “serious injury or worse could face anyone attempting to take the law into their own hands” and discouraged motorcyclists from challenging thieves.

“The gangs carry hammers, knives and in one reported incident, acid was used against a biker who attempted to intervene in the theft of a sportsbike from a busy shopping centre. Some thieves also use battery-powered angle grinders to cut through security and there have been cases where members of the public have been threatened with the grinders. For this reason, police advise not approaching the gangs during a theft.

“There’s no doubt that vigilantism is not the answer to inner-city motorcycle crime. The note in the Ace Cafe may not seem significant to some, but the NPCC and indeed the Home Office should take this as a very serious sign that the limited pursuit policy is causing more problems than it is intended to solve.

“The motorcycling population now needs to be better protected, before it takes matters into its own hands.”

The administrator of the London Motorcycle Crime Facebook page was keen to dismiss claims of vigilante action to HuffPost UK, saying recently that there hadn’t been any incidents, “nor do I know of any organised action”. 

However, later added: “People are getting desperate and feel that nobody is taking their concerns seriously. It’s now moved beyond the inconvenience and cost of having your property stolen from the street to the prospect of being singled out and attacked in the street on your motorcycle.

“Personally, I would not support vigilante action which included violence, but I really cannot see how bikers can be expected to sit back and watch the authorities do nothing. People are dying. From being attacked for their bikes to being hit by unlicensed riders on stolen machines.”

The administrator, who declined to be named, was keen to point out that the issue was difficult for police to combat as they had “their hands tied” by court decisions and pursuit protocols and “lenient” sentences handed out to convictions thieves. 

In a statement to Huffpost Uk Operation Venice’s Payne also cited the guidelines police are governed by when using “pursuit tactics”.

The MPS is clear that pursuit tactics are necessary to apprehend criminals and are an option available to only the most highly trained police drivers.

“They are trained to assess the level of risk to the people being pursued, as well as the officers themselves and the wider public. They have specialist advisors to support them 24/7 and a senior officer monitors all pursuitactivity when an incident arises. The safety of people directly and indirectly involved in a pursuit incident is paramount and additional safeguards are in place when the vehicle being pursued is a moped or motorcycle, but in general terms, people intent on using vehicles to commit crime on London’s roads must realise their actions will attract a proportionate response from London’s police officers.

On Tuesday the London Motorcycle Crime Facebook page shared the Biker and Bike article on the vigilante notice being placed at the Ace Cafe.