It was August 2007. Smoking had just been banned in the public places and Tony Blair stepped down to be succeeded by Gordon Brown.
The four day Bulldog Bash generated profits of over one million pounds for the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club in 2007. The festival, which took place in mid-Augus, has been hosted at the Shakespeare County Raceway in the village of Long Marston, Warwickshire since the beginning. It started as a small gathering in 1987, but the event had grown to one of the largest motorcycle festivals in Europe, with a record 50,000 people reported to have attended in 2007.
It is not hard to see why it was so popular with bikers as it followed the organisers’ philosophy of hosting a festival that meets all the criteria of their own ‘perfect party’, organised by bikers, for bikers. Since its inception, it has followed largely the same providing entertainment aimed at the motorcycle riding fraternity, including live rock music, beer tents, motorcycle racing, drag racing & stunt riding demonstrations. Lovers of Shakespeare at his nearby birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon would maybe have been less keen on the Adult entertainment which traditionally was a big part of the event, including Wet T-shirt contest, erotic dance shows and topless bike wash. On the other hand, maybe most of the Shakespeare fans would have enjoyed it because, as we all know, how people really enjoy spending their time when nobody they know is around, is something that constantly surprises us.
On Sunday 12 August 2007 Hells Angels and other motorbike fans were travelling home from the Bulldog Bash. One of the Hells Angels heading back to South London was Gerry Tobin, known as “Gentleman Gerry”. The 35 year old was one of the most popular member of the gang, who although he had been born in Macclesfield had emigrated to Canada as a boy. Not fitting the tabloid stereotype of a Hells Angel, Gerry had led Bible studies at his home in Calgary and even thought of becoming a missionary before returning to England in the 1990s with his fiancée Beckie Smith, now 25. Gerry was loving life with his fiancée, whilst working as a mechanic at a local Harley Davison dealership and spending time with his fellow Hells Angels.
Gerry was now riding home on the M40. He stopped at a petrol station in Stratford to fill up his Harley davison FXTB nighttrain from where he took the A46 to the M40 and joined the motorway travelling south, at the head of a convoy of three bikers. Bringing up the rear of the three bike convoy was a man who was looking to join the Hells Angels, but had not yet been accepted into the gang, Pawel Lec. As he rode, he spotted in his mirror a dark green car coming up fast from behind and moved into the middle lane to let it pass. As he approached junction 12 for Leamington Spa, the green rover 620 raced past and then slowed down its speed to match the speed of the driver at the front of the pack, Gerry Tobin. Lec watched in horror as guns appeared out of the passenger windows and shots were fired. As the car sped off, it seemed as first as though Gerry hadn’t been affected. But two or three seconds later he noticed Gerry let go of the handlebars and his body fell under the wheels of Lec’s bike.
The first bullet had smashed through the mudguard of Gerry’s mudguard and into the rear wheel of his bike and skirted through the tread of the rear wheel. One of the bullets skimmed the base of Gerry’s helmet, lodging in his skull and killing him instantly. Gerry ended face down on the tarmac near the central reservation whilst his bike carried on for 200 metres before veering off to the grass verge on the left of the road. A middle aged lady in a BMW was the first person to stop. She retrieved a first aid kit from her car but finding no pulse realised nothing could be done. The air ambulance arrived quickly but Gerry could not be saved. Tragically, Gerry died at the scene on the M40 motorway on that August afternoon.
Do you know much about the Hells Angels beyond Harleys, leather jackets and facial hair? Me neither, but I found a great quote when researching this case:
“We can safely start with saying that if you are interested in joining the Hells Angels MC, and you are really on Google to tell you how to do it, then you probably won’t be joining them any time soon. The first in the list of Hells Angels membership requirements is to have the right personality. You will have similar interests and therefore probably also friends in common. People with similar interests usually gravitate.”
In order to become a Hells Angels prospect, candidates must have a valid driver’s license, a motorcycle over 750cc, and have the right combination of personal qualities – this involves some serious vetting by local members, it isn’t easy to be accepted. It is said the club excludes child molesters and individuals who have applied to become police or prison officers. They are one of the Motorcycle Clubs known as a one per center. These clubs can be distinguished by a “1%” patch worn on their colours which is said to refer to a comment by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) following a riot in 1947, saying that 99% of motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens, implying the last one percent were outlaws. Some of these one percent motorcycle clubs are based only in America, whereas others such as the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, the Pagan’s Motorcycle Club and the Bandidos Motorcycle Club have chapters throughout the world.
Outlaw motorcycle clubs gained momentum in the latter half of the 1940’s. The timing was not random. World War 2 had just finished and there were a large number of ex-servicemen returning from the war who found that there was not the same “rush” as in battle when they were back at home with a normal life. At this same time there were also a large number of ex-military Harley Davidson motorcycles that were no longer required. Put the two of these items together and suddenly you had the fix for the boredom of the ex-servicemen. They had now regained their excitement as well as had a way to continue their brotherhood.
Numerous police and international intelligence agencies classify the Hells Angels as one of the “big four” motorcycle gangs, along with the Pagans, Outlaws, and Bandidos, and contend that members carry out widespread violent crimes, including drug dealing, trafficking in stolen goods, and extortion, and are involved in prostitution. Members of these organisations have continuously asserted that they are only a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who have joined to ride motorcycles together, to organise social events such as group road trips, fundraisers, parties, and motorcycle rallies, and that any crimes are the responsibility of the individuals who carried them out and not the club as a whole. Whilst innocent citizens have been harmed, the large majority of outlaw motorcycle club related violent crime is amongst clubs and in general the old saying of “stay out of their way and they will stay out of yours” rings true.
As his fellow Hells Angels realised Gerry was dead, they cut the patch from his jacket. This much coveted piece of cloth covers 1 per cent of the colours and as we said earlier is so key as it signifies that while 99 per cent of bikers are law-abiding, the remainder are not. The Angels regard the patch as belonging to the chapter rather than the individual, and that’s why they removed it from the dying man.
Have you ever been to the funeral of someone who means a lot to you and all around you there are people just carrying on with their everyday lives? You wonder how they can just do this whilst you and the other mourners are so distraught. This feeling is even worse at the scene of a fatal road accident where the people caught in the queues often seem to treat it like a jolly day out. It was the same as Gerry died, and man in a striped T-shirt managed to make the ensuing traffic jam sound like a holiday saying. “People just kicked back and relaxed. They chatted. They got out of their cars and took their dogs for a walk.”
Detective superintendent ken Lawrence was placed in charge of the investigation. It was instantly clear this was a murder and his first problem was securing the crime scene which was 4 lanes wide and a mile long. The road was sealed off on both sides, trapping around 400 vehicles, and the occupants of the cars were brought blankets and refreshments by the red cross. He knew it was going to be difficult to make progress due to the code of silence within the Angels who liked to deal with their own business away from the authorities. At first it looked as if the police faced an impossible task. The Hells Angels code of silence meant that they wouldn’t even open their mouths to identify Gerry’s body and they had to get his name from his wallet.
Gerry’s mum immediately flew in from Canada. When she went to see her son at the morgue, she described seeing the white sheet over her boy and how she sang to him. “I told Death you can’t have him, he’s mine, he’s coming back with me.” Marcus Berriman, president of the London Chapter of the Hells Angels, read out a statement on behalf of Gerry’s girlfriend, Rebecca. He said: “Gerry was British by birth, being born in Macclesfield, but left for a new life in Canada at an early age. “To those who knew him, Gerry stood out in the crowd as a true gentleman. He was a rare breed of man with the heart of a lion and a soul filled with compassion and selflessness. “Gerry was both a man of his word and a defender of his principles. He was a hardworking and respected motorcycle mechanic who was not only loving towards Rebecca but also to his family and friends. “This is borne out by the thousands of tributes from across the world. “Gerry was a thinking man, always ready and able to offer guidance and support to others, a true inspiration to many people, a charming personality whose quick-witted humour always kept everyone smiling. “He lived for the people that were close to him. His membership of the Hells Angels was a natural extension of his passion for motorcycles, motorcycling and those people who shared his enthusiasm. “He was Rebecca’s soul mate and she feels truly blessed to have spent five wonderful years of her life, the best five years, with such a wonderful man. She will always miss him. “A loss that has left a void in so many lives that can never be filled.”
The police investigation was struggling. CCTV had captured the green rover but who did it belong to? Then there was a breakthrough. The burnt-out Rover was found in a back-street in Coventry and traced to its owner, one Sean Creighton. Using his own car for the killing wasn’t the only mistake Sean made. He and his accomplices were caught on CCTV cameras at a petrol station wearing winter clothing in an attempt to disguise themselves. It only made them stand out. The same cameras caught Gerry, too. He was looking up and smiling. You couldn’t imagine Sean doing that. Or any of his friends. It would be hard to imagine a more intimidating bunch. Mute, tattooed, thick-set and expressionless. So who was Sean Creighton? The motorbike mechanic was a senior figure in a rival Motorcycle Club, The Outlaws. He claimed to be the “sergeant-at-arms” but police believe he was the president and main power behind the small south Warwickshire chapter of the Outlaws and the man whose finger was on the trigger of the gun that killed Gerry. He worked as a motorcycle mechanic.
Detective Superintendent knew that if this was in fact a murder carried out by a rival motorbike club, his investigation was going to take him into the shadowy world of biker gangs and the threat they posed.
Police believed the shot which claimed Gerry’s life was the latest chapter in a bitter story of hatred between the Outlaws and the Hell’s Angels. The shooting -which they thought would have been sanctioned by overseas “overlords” in retaliation for a previous incident – took place on territory which the Outlaws regard as their own. Many Outlaws regarded the location of the Hell’s Angels’ annual Bulldog Bash – Long Marston, near Stratford-upon-Avon – as a “deliberately provocative” venue chosen to inspire conflict. In the uK, the Outlaws view their heartlands as Warwickshire, Staffordshire, south Wales, Derbyshire, Birmingham and London. While the Hell’s Angels also have a presence in London and south Wales, they regard areas including Windsor, Kent, Essex and Wolverhampton as their strongholds. “Long Marston would be considered in the territory of the Outlaws and the south Warwickshire chapter – run by Sean Creighton – would see that area as under their jurisdiction.
The rivalry between the two gangs originated in a series of brutal murders in north America in the late 1960s and has since spread to other parts of the world. Police believed the murder of Gerry Tobin might have been carried out in retaliation for another attack elsewhere in the world. Detective Superintendent Ken Lawrence,said: “I don’t think they would take on something like this without sanction because of the repercussions. There would have to be some awareness and sanction.” The international dimension of the intense and mutual hatred which resulted in Gerry’s murder has its roots in the late 1969 when an American member of the Outlaws raped the wife of a Hell’s Angel.
The woman’s husband and other Hells Angels later beat the rapist almost to death in New York, which in turn was avenged when three Hells Angels were kidnapped by the Outlaws and executed at point blank range, before their bodies were weighted down with rocks and thrown in a Florida quarry. Since then there have been tit-for-tat incidences all over the world, with increasing activity in Britain. Earlier this year, the machete-wielding gangs clashed violently and openly at Birmingham airport. And in 2007 David Melles,, an Outlaw from Selsey, Gloucestershire, was jailed for 12 years for amassing an illegal armoury of guns and bullets. Police found them while investigating a proposed showdown between the two gangs in Cinderford, Gloucestershire.
During its attempts to convince Stratford-upon-Avon’s licensing authority that the Bulldog Bash posed a danger to public safety, Warwickshire Police detailed a number of incidents, including the 2001 shooting of a Canadian Hell’s Angel on the M40 which mirrored the murder of Mr Tobin. In its statement, the force said: “In order to appreciate the potentially life-threatening risk to members of the public as a result of the Bulldog Bash, it is necessary to understand the history of the motorcycle clubs. In 1998, the Outlaws made a specific threat to bomb the Bulldog Bash. This threat was taken seriously by both the police and the event organisers. On August 12, 2001, a Hell’s Angel member was shot on the M40 as they left the Bulldog Bash. This was treated as an attempted murder. The circumstances were almost identical to the murder of Gerry with he individual being shot three times in the leg.” On that occasion the shots were believed to have been fired from a dark-coloured saloon car, although the injured party refused to make a formal complaint.
In their submission, Warwickshire Police also cited numerous examples of violence between the two gangs across Europe and north America, including a 2006 murder in New Hampshire in which an Outlaws “security chief” killed a man who was wearing a Hell’s Angels shirt. But, while the depth of the rivalry is clear, the exact reason for Gerry’s murder remained a mystery due to the “shroud of secrecy” surrounding biker gangs. “They do not talk to us, as witnesses and victims, they do not talk to us so sometimes we do not know what is really going on,” Mr Lawrence said. “It’s difficult to link it (the shooting) to a previous particular incident. There were other events last around the same time he was murdered, one in Sweden and North America. I do not know what this was linked to. It’s very difficult to link one attack to another because they are going on all the time.” He believed it was likely that the South Warwickshire chapter of the Outlaws was chosen to carry out the killing by those higher up in the organisation because the Bulldog Bash, organised by the Hell’s Angels, was on their “turf”.
The police investigation discovered that the plan had been in place for a number of months. At the South Warwickshire Outlaws Christmas party in an art deco watering hole on the fringes of Coventry, the president, serjeant-at-arms and a bespectacled treasurer had been among those gathered to plot the death of a rival gang member they callously dismissed as a “maggot”. The chapter’s president Sean Creighton, 44, who would fire the fatal shot, began target practice on a dummy at his home nearby – police discovered this when they raided his home. Three days before the murder, the men began monitoring bikers heading for the Bulldog Bash, looking out for a member of the Hells Angels. They found one, Gerald Tobin. On the day of the murder as Gerry rode his Harley-Davidson down the motorway, a green Rover sped up beside him at 90mph. It’s driver Dane Garside, 42, said to be the vice-president, manoeuvred it into position and Creighton and Simon Turner, 41, the chapter’s serjeant-at-arms opened fire. Nearby, Dean Taylor, 47, as well as “dogsbody probationers” Karl Garside, 45, and Ian Cameron, 46, were acting as back-up in a white Range Rover just in case the initial plan failed, and Malcolm Bull, 53, was patrolling in a Renault Laguna. Minutes after the murder, the occupants of the Rover ordered their two sub-units to stand down. They sped back to the Coventry area and the Rover was set alight in a country lane.
So who were these men?
Dane Garside Garside, the driver of the Rover, had only recently been awarded the black and yellow insignia of the Outlaws, designating him as a “fully patched” member. A 42-year-old lorry driver and father of seven, he had wanted to be in an outlaw bikers’ club since he was 13 and had the Grim Reaper emblem of another club, Satan’s Slaves, tattooed on his head in anticipation of the day when he would be accepted into the biking fraternity. He also had the word “warrior” tattooed on his head. I am sure we can think of more apt words to be tattooed on his head.
Simon Turner, the other gunmen, was a mechanic who worked at a motorcycle shop in Coventry that acted as an unofficial clubhouse for the members. His elaborate tattoos stretched all the way down his arms and round his neck and he was no stranger to violent attacks on strangers. In 1993, he had been jailed for ten years for grievous bodily harm for stabbing and throwing petrol over a man he had never met before but who owed money to a friend. Turner explained his action later by saying that he needed the money to buy his children’s Christmas presents. Throwing petrol over the man had been, he said, just “a scare tactic”. His children must be so proud.
Three others in the chapter, Karl Garside (Dane’s brother) Ian Cameron and Dean Taylor, were in a Range Rover further up the motorway. Taylor had a conviction for aggravated burglary – using a sawn-off shotgun to recover some bikers’ regalia. A seventh member of the chapter, Malcolm Bull, who worked in the refuse business, was in a third car, apparently acting as a link between the two other cars. Creighton had decided that a Hell’s Angel – any Hell’s Angel would do – would meet the Grim Reaper that day.
At their trial at Birmingham Crown Court, President Creighton pleaded guilty to the killing. The evidence against him was so overwhelming he had little choice and police suspected this was just his way of trying to keep his chapter of the Outlaws existing – after all, the others were all in the Dock with him. The rest of the cowards maintained their innocence through the nine-week trial until they were convicted of the murder and related firearms offences. One member of the gang jeered at Gerry’s mum. What a classy chap.
At sentencing all seven stood, handcuffed, in the dock, as the judge sentenced them. Outside the court, 100 fellow Outlaws waited in support as armed police officers kept a watchful eye.Creighton was told he would locked up for a minimum of 28 years and six months, Turner for 30 years, Bull, 25 years, Dane Garside, 27 years, Taylor, 30 years, Karl Garside, 26 years and Cameron for 25 years. “This was an appalling murder,” said Judge Mr Justice Treacy in Birmingham Crown court. “A totally innocent man was executed with a firearm in broad daylight on a busy motorway for no reason other than that he belonged to a different motorcycle club than yours. He was a total stranger to you. The utter pointlessness of what you did makes his murder more shocking.Mr Tobin was a man of good character in a positive sense and all of those who gave statements who knew him attested to that fact. He was not only an obvious target but an easy target in the sense that he was not surrounded, as some might have been, by his colleagues. He was in that sense not only a prime target but also a soft target. None of you has showed the remotest feeling, consideration or remorse for what you did,” the judge said. “This dreadful crime, in my judgement, falls into a particularly high category of seriousness because it involved the use of a firearm and because of its cold-blooded and ruthless nature.”
Outside court, Gerry’s fiancee Rebecca paid tribute to her “true angel”, describing his death as “tragic and untimely”. She said: “I would like to thank my family, including all members of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club, who have supported and carried me through this nightmare from the start.” Gerry’s Mum, who had flown over from the family’s native Canada for the trial, drew applause from the press as she paid an emotionally charged tribute to her son. He was a man of dignity, compassion and loyalty, she said. Fighting back tears, she added: “Physically taken from us all, no longer does my son walk this earth among us and it is our loss, it is our great loss. Gerard Michael’s life was heinously taken and the reasons why are embedded in our minds and etched in our hearts.”
A couple of years ago, one of the gang, Kevin Garside, apparently had a price put on his head for ¬“betraying” his comrades. He feared for his life after he told other -members of his gang he wants nothing more to do with them.. Garside has been accused of ¬breaking the secretive gang’s code of honour by turning his back on the ¬Outlaws. A jail source revealed: “The Outlaws live and die by a code of honour and it is almost unknown for any member to break away. Karl blames the peer pressure of being an Outlaw for putting him in the position of being an ¬accessory to murder. He wants nothing more to do with the gang. There is a huge amount of anger at Karl. He is a marked man.”
The real sadness here is the death of Gerry Tobin who by all accounts was a lovely man. For years, Gerry had worn the infamous death’s head insignia of a Hells Angel with fierce pride and unquestioning loyalty. Thousands of bikers across Britain aspire, but only 250 or so have reached the status of a “fully patched” member of the revered and reviled motorcycle club, the Hells Angels. But sadly Gerry’s treasured patch would become his death warrant.
The words of the judge stick with me when he said that it was an utterly pointless murder, just because a man belonged to a different motorcycle club. So true and so pointless.
What happens now between the gangs remains to be seen. As the Outlaws slogan states: “God forgives, Outlaws don’t.” Nor, one might imagine, do Hells Angels.