Gang boosts links with Hells Angels

MASS TURNOUT: Hells Angels and other riders at the Vanguard and Gloucester streets at a recent gathering in Nelson.
MASS TURNOUT: Hells Angels and other riders at the Vanguard and Gloucester streets at a recent gathering in Nelson.

Nelson's Red Devils have moved a step closer to becoming an official chapter of the Hells Angels gang, and can wear its insignia, a gang researcher says.

Canterbury University sociologist Jarrod Gilbert posted on his blog this week that the move was "entirely predictable", after the Red Devils served a mandatory period as an associate group.

Gilbert, author of Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand, said the Red Devils had become a "hang around chapter" of the Hells Angels and had been given leave to wear some Hells Angels insignia.

In time they would become an official chapter, joining others in Auckland and Whanganui.

Gilbert said the addition of the Hells Angels "brand" in Nelson was likely to boost those wanting to join.

The Red Devils were formed in Nelson in 2009. Apart from their president, a former Road Knights president from Timaru, none had been in an outlaw club before, Gilbert said.

Police have made several attempts to prevent the gang getting established in Nelson.

After a 2011 police raid on the group's Natalie St headquarters, former Tasman district commander Superintendent Garry Knowles said the Red Devils were a "puppet gang for the Hells Angels" and were not welcome in Nelson. But police efforts suffered a setback in 2012 when charges against 21 people caught up in a series of raids on the Red Devils and their associates were dropped because of a flawed undercover operation

Justice Simon France strongly criticised the way police fooled the courts by staging a fake arrest of an undercover officer to boost his credibility.

"In my view there can be no doubt that what the police did here is a fundamental and serious abuse of the court's processes," the judge said.

His decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal last October, clearing the way for the charges to proceed against the Red Devils group.

However, lawyers for the group have signalled an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Gilbert said while the move by the Hells Angels in Nelson "will undoubtedly cause a stir, nothing much has changed except to expose as a fallacy the idea that police can crush outlaw clubs or gangs with force".

"While police pressure took some toll on the membership of the Red Devils, those who remained have a steely determination to stay for the long haul."

Nelson police declined to comment on Gilbert's article.