Should gang patches be banned?
At least seven members of a the Hells Angels motor cycle gang, and members of the Headhunters MC have arrived in Picton bound for Nelson.
The patched members drove off the Interislander Ferry about 11.35am today.
A member told The Marlborough Express the group knew about the police raids throughout New Zealand, but they were still committed to driving to Nelson for the annual Poker Run.
Police stopped at least two riders as they left town and check licences and breath tested the gang members.
In Nelson, armed police smashed their way into the headquarters of the Red Devils gang, this morning and simultaneously raided 60 other addresses in Nelson, Tasman and Marlborough in a massive police operation aimed at halting the activities of the Hells Angels puppet gang.
Operation Explorer involved more than 240 police, customs and defence staff from around the country, with many flown to Nelson early today in a New Zealand Defence Force Hercules.
Tasman police district commander Superintendent Gary Knowles said two or three Marlborough properties also had been searched. A number of arrests for drug dealing, firearms and explosives offences had been made as part of the overall investigation.
The operation had been running for 18 months and would continue, he said. The operation was focused on finding individuals, drugs, weapons, cash and other property.
It started dramatically at 8am with a police bulldozer demolishing the front entrance to the Red Devils' headquarters in Natalie St, Nelson.
A specialist search police team of six officers went into the weatherboard house, which has many visible security devices on it.
It is the third raid on the property in the past nine months, the most recent raid last week.
This morning a dozen police officers were at the property and two armed offenders squad members were guarding it. The home of a top-level Red Devils member in Alfred St, Nelson, was among the properties visited.
Auckland police this morning also visited the Auckland headquarters of Hells Angels in Brentwood Ave, Eden Terrace. It appeared to be a low-key visit.
Mr Knowles said today's operation and past police raids had produced significant evidence to back up the police view over the past two years that Red Devils' primary focus was organised crime. The evidence also confirmed the gang's relationship with the Hells Angels, he said.
"We never thought for a moment these were just good old boys on motorbikes, despite what their supporters and legal representatives tried to present them as."
This morning's operation was a multi-agency exercise, involving NZ Defence Force and Customs working alongside police and the Organised and Financial Crime Agency New Zealand (OFCANZ). Mr Knowles and the deputy Commissioner of Police, Rob Pope, and director of OFCANZ Malcolm Burgess were to outline what police found in the raids this afternoon.
This morning's raids in Nelson coincide with a predicted influx of 50 to 60 motorcycle gang members into the region to take part in the annual charity Poker Run tomorrow. A police spokeswoman said she did not know whether today's police action would put off out-of-town gang members from coming to Nelson.
Last year's Poker Run attracted national media attention and patched members from the Auckland and Whanganui Hells Angels, Timaru's Road Knights, Christchurch's Epitaph Riders and Head Hunters.
The Poker Run created headlines in 2009 when it became the first public outing of New Zealand's only chapter of the Red Devils Nelson – a subsidiary of the Hells Angels.
Police have been taking a hard line against gangs and organised crime. Last month, North Island police undertook a major police operation in 10 towns focusing on Australia's largest outlaw motorcycle gang, The Rebels.
A police spokeswoman said Operation Explorer was a Tasman police district operation, but was another example on work being done to disrupt organised crime.
Paul Sturrock of Sturrock and Greenwood, whose business neighbours the Nelson Red Devils' headquarters, said he had never seen any unusual activity at the Natalie St address. "They must be really confident of getting something."
A neighbour of a house in Higgs Rd, Mapua, that was raided this morning said she heard dogs on the property barking at about 7am and then saw five police officers in overalls on the property as well as several police cars in the street. She did not know anything about the occupants of the house being searched.
Police also visited a house in Grey St, Motueka, that a worker at a neighbouring orchard packhouse, who would not give his name, said was occupied by a man who was rumoured to be involved with the Red Devils. Fairfax
- The Marlborough Express