Notorious gangs eye up Christchurch
Two notorious outlaw motorcycle gangs are attempting to set up in post-quake Christchurch, looking to cash in on organised crime during the rebuild.
The Sunday Star-Times can reveal the Head Hunters and feared Australian-based gang Bandidos both now have a presence in the city, but police say they are yet to gain a foothold.
A gang expert says their arrival is no surprise, and believes they are taking advantage of the fact that gang activity in Christchurch is the lowest in decades. Police don't disagree but say the situation is fluid and difficult to measure.
Police believe Canterbury has about 250 gang members, but about a third of them are in jail. They acknowledge that the city will be viewed as an attractive place for organised crime during the rebuild.
"If you look around New Zealand, as any business would, and you want to make money, whether it be legitimate or by crime, you would be foolish not to see what's going on in Christchurch for the next 10 years," Detective Inspector Tom Fitzgerald said this week.
He confirmed that the Head Hunters and Bandidos were attempting to become established in the city.
"There's no doubt they're here, but in very small numbers at the moment."
Christchurch has been steeped in bikie gang history ever since the Epitaph Riders formed in 1969. The city was home to the country's first gang war waged between the Epitaph Riders and the Devils Henchmen in 1974. It was arguably the most congested outlaw city in New Zealand during the 1990s, but numbers fell away as aging membership and methamphetamine took its toll, gang expert Jarrod Gilbert said. He believed gang activity in Christchurch was at a 40-year low.
Some of the city's established gangs are among those flying the colours for the new arrivals.
Former members of the Road Knights have aligned themselves with the Head Hunters while former members of the Highway 61 are believed to have aligned themselves with the Bandidos.
Fitzgerald said the situation was not cause for alarm among residents. Police were actively targeting all gangs in the city.
"I don't think these major gangs have been successful in getting a foothold in Canterbury at all and I will do my absolute best to make sure they don't.
"We will sustain an environment that is very uncomfortable for organised crime to survive and that will get worse, not better for them."
Already this year police in the district had intercepted gang-related importations of methamphetamine, but he would not reveal further details.
In 2011 it was announced Australian motorcycle club the Rebels had moved into New Zealand. The gang quickly spread throughout the country. They have previously had a gang pad on Racecourse Rd, but were forced out because of insurance issues. Gilbert said the group still had a "significant foothold" in the Christchurch. Fitzgerald said the Gilbert was "probably over rating" their status, but acknowledged they members in the city and were trying to establish themselves.
Gilbert said . Methamphetamine use and aging membership had destroyed many gangs, he said.
Gilbert said Highway 61, Epitaph Riders and Rebels were the main outlaw motorcycle clubs that remained in the city, but he was aware of moves by other gangs to establish themselves.
"It's reason for police vigilance, but for 99 per cent of the population for this city they notice absolutely no difference."
Who are the Head Hunters MC?
The Head Hunters has been in existence in New Zealand since 1967 when they formed as a street gang in Glen Innes. Over time they have evolved into a motorcycle club that has chapters throughout the North Island, but until now their presence has not been identified in the South Island. The motorcycle club is regarded as one of the largest motorcycle gangs in the country and police are concerned by their rapid growth in recent years and their "propensity towards extreme violence". It has more than 120 patched members.
Police say the group are involved in a range of criminal activity - drug manufacture and supply, debt collection and intimidation.
They use gyms and fight nights or similar events to recruit new members.
Who are the Bandidos MC?
The Sunday Star-Times first revealed last year the Bandidos, one of Australia's most feared bikie gangs, was trying to establish a chapter in South Auckland. Sources said the man at the centre of the move was convicted killer and former Highway 61 member Kelly Raymond Robertson. He was later recalled to prison after he was caught meeting members of the Bandidos at Auckland Airport just days after his probation officer had told him not to associate with gang members.
Police say the gang is now established in New Zealand with more than 20 patched members.