Edinburgh crime: Balaclava gangs and motorbike thefts need more police resources

Motorcycle crime involving balaclava gangs in Edinburgh is discussed at Holyrood

Police must be given the resources they need to tackle Edinburgh’s balaclava-clad motorbike gangs, Edinburgh Southern Labour MSP Daniel Johnson has said.

Over the summer the Capital saw a series of incidents when teenagers wearing balaclavas and often on electric bikes intimidated, harassed or assaulted members of the public.

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Mr Johnson hosted a round-table summit at the Scottish Parliament on Monday (November 28) to discuss motorcycle crime – both the balaclava gangs and the increase in motorcycle thefts in the city. He said: "Motorcycle theft and motorcycle-enabled crime is a growing problem in our capital city. It’s crucial that we treat this issue seriously and put a coordinated system in place that helps tackle it. I was particularly concerned that we saw thefts of motorcycles, especially tourists’, and also the use of these e-bikes in ways a lot of people found worrying and intimidating."

Incidents included a man hit on the back of the head outside a shop in Roseburn by a youth on an electric motocross-style bike, accompanied by up to eight others, all wearing balaclavas or face coverings; fire performers, dancers and jugglers at the Meadows having ketchup thrown over them by a balaclava-wearing gang who made off on motorbikes; and a motorcycle instructor accosted by male youths on electric bikes who attempted to kick him off his bike.

Mr Johnson said: “We can’t have people riding unregistered vehicles, whether they own them or they’ve been stolen, on our streets. The police need appropriate levels of resourcing so they can have officers who are trained and equipped to apprehend these people. They are absolutely right to only want to do that when it’s safe but at the same time they need both the people and the appropriate training and equipment in order to tackle that.”

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The summer also saw a spate of motorcycle thefts in the Capital. In September, police said they had recovered 131 stolen motorcycles, with a value totalling more than £600,000. Mr Johnson said: “In terms of the theft of motorcycles, there’s a real risk of reputational damage. If tourists think Edinburgh is somewhere that’s not safe to come if you’re on a motorbike that’s bad, especially when Edinburgh is potentially a great gateway for people coming here to tour Scotland on motorbikes.”

Among those represented at the round-table discussion were the Motorcycle Action Group, Police Scotland, local business owners and the city council as well as other MSPs from across the parties. Olly Bassi, from the Motorcycle Action Group, said: "We as a biking community are extremely pleased to have the opportunity to help reduce the numbers o f riders experiencing the heartache and financial pain of being a victim of theft. The increasing reports of violent robberies and bike-jackings in the city have been of particular concern, we want to prevent further riders being injured or worse. There is a feeling changes to police pursuit policy and new guidelines from the Scottish Sentencing Council have contributed to this situation, so we hope for changes in these areas."

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Balaclava-wearing youths on motorbikes were involved in incidents of assault, harassment and intimidation over the summer.

City council transport convener Scott Arthur said: “It was quite shocking to hear details of some quite brazen thefts of motorcycles in Edinburgh. This has had a huge impact on Edinburgh’s biker community, and also our reputation as a destination for international visitors touring Scotland on motorbikes. Given the seriousness of the situation, I was happy to give the Motorcycle Action Group an assurance that I would request that secure parking for bikers in Edinburgh is reviewed.”

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And Paul Johnson, from the Newington Hotels Group, said: “We need to work to ensure Edinburgh's reputation as a safe and welcoming city is maintained for all our visitors, including our friends on motorbikes.”

Edinburgh Southern MSP Daniel Johnson hosted the summit at the Scottish Parliament.