Gang's arrival in Nelson part of growing trend

SALLY KIDSON
Last updated 05:00 08/06/2013
rebels
NEW PRESENCE: The Rebels formed in Brisbane in the 1970s.

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The Rebels Motorcycle Club has set up in the wider Nelson area, part of a nationwide resurgence in outlaw bikie gangs.

The Nelson Mail has been told that the Rebels and the Nelson-based Red Devils have an informal agreement that the Rebels will not set up in Nelson city. The Red Devils have a headquarters in Nelson.

The Devils and the Rebels are not on friendly terms officially, but they are "not at war".

The Mail understands that some members of Nelson's long-standing bikie gang the Lost Breed have become Rebels members, and that there has already been an altercation between the Lost Breed and the Rebels.

Tasman police district criminal investigations manager Detective Inspector Geoff Jago said two or three Rebels members were living in the greater Nelson area and were occasionally seen on weekends riding their motorcycles and wearing their Rebels patches.

He said there was an incident involving some Rebels members at a local hotel two to three months ago.

Police were not aware of any current tensions involving gang members, Mr Jago said.

The Rebels MC is Australian and was established in Brisbane 40 years ago. It is the largest outlaw motorcycle club in Australia.

Canterbury University lecturer and researcher Jarrod Gilbert said it was the fastest-growing bikie gang in Australia because it expanded aggressively and quickly, which was exactly what it was doing in New Zealand.

Mr Gilbert released his book Patched: The History of Gangs in New Zealand after 10 years of research.

In December, a large group of Rebel members and associates were in Nelson and stayed at the Saxton Lodge Motel in Stoke and the Leisure Lodge Motel in Waimea Rd.

The gathering was heavily monitored by Nelson police but did not cause any trouble.

Mr Gilbert said the arrival of the Rebels in the Nelson region should not cause the general public any great concern.

"The only issue can be that New Zealand's territory has been traditionally well defined, and when you've got groups moving into other people's territory, what gangs consider their territory, that can lead to conflict and gang warfare."

However, he said that in recent times, moves had occurred with "some grumbling" but had been peacefully done.

Mr Gilbert said gang members nowadays were older and not as quick to go to war as they were in the late 1980s or 1990s.

He said the people who were joining such groups in Nelson were locals and, generally speaking, were not moving here - they were just putting on different patches.

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"But look, if a gang wanted to move to Nelson, who could blame them? Sunny Nelson - everyone seems to be moving there."

Mr Gilbert said there had been a resurgence in outlaw motorcycle clubs in the past few years, and Nelson was a good example of that wider phenomenon.

There had been a "real resurgence" around the country in the past three to four years, he said.

Before that, outlaw motorcycle groups had been fading or going into terminal decline.

There were several complex reasons behind the revival, but gangs were also influenced by the ebb and flow of popular culture, he said.

He said television shows like the American motorcycle gang drama Sons of Anarchy meant that "these types of groups come back into the fore of public consciousness".

The economic downturn could also be an influence.

Mr Gilbert said the organised criminal activity associated with outlaw motorcycle groups was "grossly overstated", but this was not to say that their members were not involved in criminal activity.

Police last year were forced to drop drug and firearms charges against 21 people caught in an undercover police operation targeting the Red Devils.

Ten people were charged with taking part in an organised criminal group.

Justice Simon France ruled that police had abused the court process through deceiving a court over the arrest of an undercover officer.

The decision has been appealed by the Crown.

An appeal hearing has been set down for August.

Retired Christchurch detective Dave Haslett, who is also studying gangs, said the Rebels were fluid in the South Island and kept a low profile.

"But certainly there are a number of Rebels in the South Island. It's been quite significant that we haven't had the clashes we have seen in previous decades."

He believed this was probably due to gang members getting older and wiser and realising that if they ended up in conflict with others, this drew attention and adverse publicity.

- The Nelson Mail

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