The Hells Angels have launched a last-ditch bid to block a bylaw that bans them from wearing their patches on the streets of Wanganui arguing they are a club, not a gang.
The motorcycle gang, which has a fortified headquarters in the city, said the move would breach the Bill of Rights. It has hired a lawyer to fight Wanganui District Council's bid to become the first city to ban gang insignia.
Five Hells Angels members will argue their case before a council subcommittee on Friday.
In submissions to the council, the bikies wrote:
* "Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is not a gang but a motorcycle club and patch not worn to intimidate but show membership of a club with common interest brotherhood and motorcycling." Shane Bullock
* "I as a member of the Hells Angels `motorcycle club' have been wrongfully and unjustly targeted without merit of resnable grounds, with total disregarde to our club protocol and culture and to be able to wear out club colours as I have done for years." Bevan Parker
"[I seek to be] free to wear my motorcycle colours insignia (etc.) wear ever I want to. Respect that we are a motorcycle club, not a (gang) and we live to ride and ride to live." Robert Britton
The gang is one of 10 whose patches will be banned if the bylaw is passed.
Offenders could be fined up to $2000 and have their patches confiscated if they ignore the rule.
Hells Angels members at the gang's Wanganui headquarters would not comment yesterday.
But Christchurch lawyer Steven Rollo confirmed he had been hired to fight the bylaw, saying he would not rule out court action.
His nine-page submission says the Hells Angels are not a gang, do not exist for criminal purposes and that members are mostly in full employment and active in the community.
"It has a reputation which it does not entirely deserve and which is founded on the exploits of individuals that tend to be exaggerated."
Mr Rollo said the ban would do little to stop gangs publicly expressing their allegiance, as they could still wear colours and use slogans and hand signals.
Hells Angels members usually wore patches only when riding their motorcycles, at their headquarters or at events, and did not use them to intimidate the public. The bylaw clashes with the Bill of Rights, his submission says.
Whanganui MP Chester Borrows, who sponsored the anti-gang patch bill allowing the bylaw, said he was confident it was legally sound. The gang should have made a submission during the select committee process.
Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws said the argument that the Hells Angels were not a criminal organisation was extreme. "We'll see what proof they have [on Friday] to suggest that we're wrong, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of it."
Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Michael Bott said freedom of expression, including the right to wear anything, should apply to everyone.
The bylaw's inconsistency with the Bill of Rights meant the Hells Angels could potentially argue their case in the Supreme Court or at the United Nations, he said.
Councillor Rob Vinsen, who opposes the bylaw, said the Hells Angels' stance had opened a can of worms. "Every time the council tries to use this they will be fought all the way by lawyers."
- The Dominion Post