JOYRIDERS are turning a city estate into the “Wild West” of Edinburgh as car thieves torment residents with high-speed races then boast of their rampages on social media.
Gang members as young as 14 are running amok in Pilton by stealing powerful motorbikes and careering along paths, pavements and roads almost every night.
Terrified residents have said police and courts seem “powerless” to stop the anarchy with the gang suspected of stealing dozens of bikes in recent months. The catalogue of criminality includes:
n 20 stolen bikes being recovered by police since June 1.
n Youths riding motorbikes through a shopping centre.
n Two six-year-old boys narrowly avoiding being hit by bike thieves.
n Joyriders pulling “wheelies” at 60mph down the wrong side of the street.
Police have beefed up patrols around Pilton while the force’s helicopter is routinely deployed to hunt down the tearaways. But officers admit they “very rarely” pursue stolen bikes amid concerns inexperienced riders could be seriously injured or killed trying to escape. Instead, a key weapon in the fight to restore order has been CCTV footage and witness statements.
Long-term Pilton residents have told of “total lawlessness” on their streets as gang members boast on Facebook that they are “untouchable”.
The nightly chaos has sparked calls for tougher penalties in court for those arrested and extra officers on patrol.
In May, one of the gang’s ringleaders – who is still facing further court proceedings – escaped a jail term despite being hit with more than 30 charges and received just a six-month driving ban.
The teenager is among several serial thieves who taunt police and post incriminating photographs of stolen bikes on Facebook. Others have published video clips taken on mobile phones showing groups of youths performing dangerous stunts on public streets and in parks.
One Pilton veteran, who asked not to be named, said: “It’s like the Wild West – totally lawless. It was really bad here about ten years ago then it got better. But the last 11 months is the worst it’s ever been and I’ve lived here for 40 years.
“They are running riot and the police seem powerless to stop them. Last week I saw two youths on a bike driving past two police officers on foot shouting ‘chase us’ and swearing at them.”
Another resident told how he watched a joyrider on a stolen bike almost run over two six-year-old boys – one of whom was the rider’s younger brother.
“The bike thefts happen pretty much nightly, sometimes hourly. They drive at ridiculous speeds, ride the bikes to death then burn them out.
“I’ve spoken to police who say they don’t have the resources because officers are being diverted to the Commonwealth Games. Meanwhile, the courts make plea bargains with these little rats so they walk free.”
A shopkeeper at the Muirhouse shopping centre on Pennywell Road said the thieves often drove straight through the buildings’s concourse.
He said: “I’ve seen three youths on the back of the same bike. The police helicopter seems to be out every other night. But when people call the police they take five or ten minutes to get there. By that time, these kids are gone.”
Police carried out home visits to gang members and their entourage in the wake of a horror crash in April which left 15-year-old Raheem Mohammed in critical condition in hospital when a bike he was on struck a car in West Pilton Gardens.
Inspector David Happs said: “Following the accident, we spoke to the people involved and their parents. It seems the message got through to some of them, but there’s a small group of about a dozen who continue to offend. Some are younger, but others are aged between 19 and 25.
“Their behaviour is dangerous and it’s causing a lot of ill-feeling in the community. Residents are worried about their safety and the safety of pedestrians.”
Insp Happs said officers met council chiefs and other agencies in a bid to find “short-term and long-term solutions” to the joyriding epidemic, including identifying the reasons for the offending and promoting diversionary activities.
He added: “It’s very rare that officers will pursue a motorbike.
“You have to take into account the age of the rider, and their inexperience on what are often powerful bikes.”
A number of the thieves live in Pilton while others are believed to come from areas including Muirhouse and Wester Hailes.
Last week, police figures showed that motor vehicle crime in Edinburgh surged by 31.3 per cent between last April and March compared with the previous year.
Scottish Tory justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: “These are the sorts of offences which people in Edinburgh are fed up seeing go unpunished.
“We need to see more officers on the streets to crack down on this, but instead they’re busy filling backroom positions which have been left vacant through mismanaged cuts.”
‘TAKE ALL PRECAUTIONS YOU CAN’
THE gang has stolen bikes from across the Capital but often targets residents around the Pilton area.
An office worker in his 20s, who asked not to be named, claims his £1500 motorbike had been stolen three times since moving into Waterfront Park, Granton, in April.
He said: “I parked my bike in the underground car park just a few days after moving in. One of my neighbours said he saw youths beside my bike tampering with it. Then, a few days later, my flatmate saw three youths riding off on it. One of them was caught on the bike by police half-an-hour later.
“I started parking in the street outside but thieves tried to steal it again. When they couldn’t, they kicked it over and stole the petrol.
“I moved it back into the underground car park and used an alarmed lock, but it was stolen again. The chain was too thick for bolt cutters, so I think they used an electrical power tool to cut it. It was chained around an iron fence which surrounds the building’s gas supply and you could see marks on the fence that seemed to be from an electric saw.
“One time my bike was dumped a few hundred yards from the police station in Pilton. Another time it was found in Victoria Park.”
Inspector David Happs said: “I would advise anyone with a motorbike to take all the security precautions they can.”