Turnout blame deflected
Cops, bikies blame each other
COLIN SMITH/Fairfax NZ
Police and Nelson bikers are blaming each other for a low turnout at Nelson's motorcycle poker run at the weekend.
Police warned on Friday they would be out in force, patrolling the event, which has been organised by people associated with gang members from the Red Devils motorcycle gang and Hells Angels riders from Auckland.
However, on Saturday there was a low-key, sombre biker crowd, most of whom refused to speak to media. They directed the Nelson Mail to Christchurch barrister Steven Rollo, who also refused to comment. He was seen advising some people inquiring about Red Devils members who wanted to turn up.
Today, a source close to poker run organisers emailed a statement: "This run has always been attended by members of motorcycle clubs and the public has never had a problem with it. In previous years, they've outnumbered the club members 10 to one. What's changed is that the police have got their knickers in a twist and are harassing the pubs we stop at and all the participants in the run.
"Last year, they went well overboard, even unlawfully forcing everyone to take their helmets off to be photographed for their files and, unfortunately, the public is tiring of that sort of nonsense," the statement said.
However, today senior Sergeant Grant Andrews disagreed.
"People aren't attending the event because they don't want to be associated with gangs. The hotels chose to close their doors. There is no police pressure. It's part of an overall policy they have made to ban patches year round," Mr Andrews said.
Members of the Red Devils had bail conditions which meant they could not associate with each other, but there was potential for other patched gang members to be on the ride.
There were several police at Isel Park, in Stoke, where about 30 bikers gathered before setting off around noon.
However, only one patched Hells Angel member was seen, who claimed to be from Whanganui.
Mr Andrews said he was pleased with the behaviour of the bikers, but the low turnout was the public sending a clear message to gangs.
"People who used to be involved in the charity run – they don't want to be involved with a gang-run event," he said.
"People are very wary ... people, especially the licensed premises, really don't want these people (gang members) involved."
About three Hells Angels members were seen associated with the run, but no Red Devils members.
At least three licensed premises, between Nelson and Tapawera, had closed their doors to them, he said. "That was their own decision." The police issued 20 tickets to bikers, before and during the event, for driving infringements, including following too closely and crossing the yellow line, he said.
Poker run organisers said in an email they were happy to maintain their accident-free record and looked forward to building numbers in future years.