Thursday, 13 August 2009

The BULLDOG BASH Controversy

For twenty three years the Bulldog Bash has been held just outside Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire at the racecourse at Long Marston.
It is one of the biggest motorcycle events to be held in this country and attracts visitors from across the world.
This year saw 'Motorhead' headline the music acts.
The Bulldog Bash celebrates both music and motorcycles from the bog standard to the customised. It caters for families as well as the bike enthusiasts. In simple terms it makes for a good day out or all weekend depending what you go for.
I go to a few bike meets and I'll talk to anyone. Most times I turn up in my leather or my denim with it's badges but that doesn't make me a Hell's Angel.
In fact even the name Hell's Angel is a collective term like a pride of lions.
Bikers come in various, how can I put it - kinds, I suppose. There are Outlaws, One Per Centers, Old School Rockers - and, of course, Hell's Angels. But it is easier for the press and police to just lump the whole lot together under one name.
There are sixteen chapters of Hell's Angels in the UK. The first of these dates back to about 1973 five years after The Beatles brought a couple of American angels to Britain.
The profile of Britain's Hell's Angels is so low that, unlike America and Canada, there is no special police force to investigate their activities.

So why is the Chief Constable of Warwickshire, Keith Bristow, getting so steamed up about the Bulldog Bash?
He wants to stop the Bash from becoming an annual event. He doesn't want a motorcycle/musical event to be staged on his turf by the criminal fraternity who's one aim is raise funds for their criminal activities. On the other hand he would be quite happy if the event was carried out by 'responsible' people - as long as they weren't Hell's Angels.
Despite losing the appeal to have the 10 year licence granted to the organisers because he had no evidence to back up his claims, Keith Bristow is determined to plough on and search for any legal opportunity, whether criminal or civil, to put an end to the Bulldog Bash.
He complains that the organisers won't show him the books to show where the money goes - but then, the organisers are a registered limited company who, by law, and do file their company accounts. Second, most people know that funds go to charities that support our armed forces.
What most people don't know is that Hell's Angels arranged days out for disabled children and Christmas Toy runs for children in hospital and countless other charitable works throughout the year.
See you at the Bulldog Bash 2010 - then.
So they have a bad rep but that goes with the territory. Just read Hunter S. Thompson's 'Hells Angels' or Julian Sher and William Mardsen's 'Angels Of Death' and you wouldn't want to meet one in a dark alley. But up close and beneath those leathers, badges and tattoos are some of the nicest blokes you could meet.
There has been publicity like the shooting of Gerry Tobin on the M40 after the 2007 Bulldog Bash and the battle at Birmingham Airport earlier this year between Outlaws and Angels. On the other hand there have been a lot more bad things that happened in the world that have dwarfed these isolated instances.
But don't take my word for it - a spokesman for the Hell's Angels of England and Wales had this point to make: "If we are organised criminals why do we ride around quite openly displaying patches saying who we are.
We get together to ride our bikes, visit our brothers here and overseas and party. Just because some of our members have crossed the line doesn't make every member a criminal nor a club a criminal organisation."
And Angels come from all walks of life.


  1. I watched these news reports with disbelief too Ray. There are plenty of criminals in all walks of life, so why pick on the Angels, particularly an event that's mainly for chariety that hasn't had any trouble at the actual event since it far as I know.

    I remember chatting to the Secretary of a local chapter about photography some years ago, and as you say, it wasn't any different to talking to any other person - and why would it be?

  2. I came across some interesting stats after writing this piece.
    460 police officers were on duty outside the grounds.
    Attendance was in excess of 23,000 people.
    During the whole event 11 arrests were made mainly for possession of small quantities of drugs. And 9 knives were seized.
    None of these took place in the grounds.
    This is less than the number of arrests made on a Friday or Saturday night in the average town centre.

  3. As an "organised crime group" the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club is a failure. Its been in the UK for over 30 years, has hundreds of members in locations all around the country and has not yet really done anything notable yet.

    Even a ratio of offences per member is probably substantially less than my local youth club.

    I am, of course, ignoring the crimes of being universally butt-ugly and having appalling tastes in motorcycle technology, at these they really do excel.

    As an escapist motorcycle club revelling in ancient myths and legend from half a century ago on the other side of the Atlantic however it is a great success.

    The problem is the police are pissed off. The Bulldog Bash is a well-established community event run by a club who wont give them a look-in. Despite their blatant attempts to twist the facts in an attempt to bring fear of” harm” to the people of Warwickshire the establishment there repeatedly supports this successful, enjoyable and safe event, thus denting the police ego.

    But, having hundreds of police checking and searching all the good people who go to this event is wasting money (£3 million in the last 18 months) and creating barriers between the community and the police.

    It is time the policing of the event was put back onto the basis that the facts of the case justify. The police keep escalating matters every time they get knocked back or are shown to be wrong yet again. Rather than ending it through some crisis why not let us do it the sensible way?

    Sign the Downing Street petition for sensible policing of the event: -

    Or maybe I’m wrong, maybe next summer this band of desperados will ride out of the desert, rape our daughters and eat our pet gerbils.

    But I doubt it.


  4. Rolo -I agree with most of what you say. It is obvious to me that most folk in Warwickshire feel safe at the Bash. I mean the local Rotary Club sets out their stall there each year. And it has to be good for the local economy.
    Thanks for mentioning the petition - I didn't know one existed.
    Not so sure about the apalling bad taste bit though. There are many customised machines out there for which the skill and technology has to be admired as well as some exceptional artwork.

  5. Jack, I did wonder if photographing original artwork (by the police of anyone else) requires the permission of the copywriter holder.

    Sorry if my humour grated, I love the sound of Harleys.

  6. Interesting point there Rolo and one I can't answer. Laws have changed so much since I left the profession a while back.
    But most of the photos we take, especially bike art, are done with the bike owner's knowledge. Most guys and girls are quite happy with it.
    On the other side of the coin has anyone tried to track down Banksy and ask his permission.

    Sorry - you're humour didn't grate. And, yes, that distinctive Harley sound is a head turner.