Fears over motorcycle thieves terrorising bikers across Newcastle and Gateshead
Northumbria Police has set up a specialist squad to target the young motor menaces who have stolen almost 100 bikes in two months
Brazen, bold and reckless, organised teams of young motorbike thieves are putting lives at risk as they target Tyneside bikers.
A top detective has today revealed his fears that someone will be seriously injured or killed if the teen motorcycle menaces operating round Newcastle and Gateshead are not stopped.
Northumbria Police has launched a specialist squad of officers to tackle the teams of thieves thought to be behind the theft of almost 100 bikes in just two months.
Their spate has some alarming similarities to the crimes of violent thieves on mopeds who brought terror to the streets of London, last year.
And today the detective heading-up Northumbria Police's specialist motorcycle task-force 'Operation Benelli' has lifted the lid on the scale of the problem, as he appeals to the public for help.
Det Chief Insp Paul Knox, said: "This is a big problem for us now. It's getting out of control and it's a real concern.
"It's only a matter of time before somebody gets hurt, either a member of the public, another road users or one of the kids themselves. We are not a London, but London started somewhere."
Operation Benelli was launched in April after a spate of similar motorbike thefts became apparent.
In many of the incidents teens riding mopeds, scooters or bikes will trawl the streets looking for bikers to target before following them, said Det Chief Insp Knox
Sometimes they will wait for victims to get off their bikes then use tools to rip off steering locks.
But in other crimes the thieves have rammed the motorcycle they are on into the one they want to steal, or simply pull up alongside to kick the rider off.
Since the start of April 92 thefts have been reported in Newcastle and Gateshead.
Police say the teams are often targeting delivery drivers who may leave their bike insecure while they drop off food.
And they have been known to scour carparks at the MetroCentre and near North East colleges to take bikes from shoppers and students.
"These are not gangs but they are organised little teams of thieves. They are riding around stealing motorbikes," Det Chief Insp Knox explained.
"It's not just theft, they are targeting people and they are using a bit of brute force to steal their bikes.
"They are riding three or four up on a bike. They are kicking people off their bikes. They are quite bold. They are going to work yards and taking bikes in front of people. They are as blatant as anything, and they are so quick. Fast food delivery drivers will often just put a steering lock on, and they are easy to spot and follow.
"The numbers are big now. We are talking about bikes worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. It's just so prevalent.
"In the main, these are kids who are taking these in order to steal other bikes and to use to commit other petty crime. Some of them are just 13 or 14 years of age."
More than half of the bikes taken in the last two months had been recovered by police, said Det Chief Insp Knox.
But police are becoming increasingly alarmed by the thieves' dangerous driving.
"We are really concerned about the road safety issues," he said. "They do present a risk to people going about their daily business. They are riding with no real helmets and doing dangerous maneoveres. They are going over grass and up pavements.
"They present a significant risk to road users. People have had to do emergency stops in front of them. "
The thieves are now being targeted by the squad of six officers that make-up the Operation Benelli team.
The cops are identifying offenders using covert tactics and CCTV before raiding their homes.
"We have got a team of six officers dedicated to this," said Det Chief Insp Knox. "They are taking a really proactive approach to this."
Northumbria Police's neighbourhood policing teams and motor patrols officers are also supporting the operation.
But Det Chief Insp Knox said it was often too dangerous for cops to follow suspects caught in the act in cars.
He said: "Our motor patrols team are engaged in this, but it does present risks. We have to be very careful about what tactics we deploy."
Det Chief Insp Knox is now urging all motorcycle users to take steps to make sure their bikes are secured properly, and to report anything suspicious they see.
"There's some real basics we can do to stop them. A simple disc lock would help stop them," he said.
"Just secure your bikes, make it difficult for them. And contact us if you see people riding two or three up on a motorbike, or people riding without helmets.
"We are relying on the public to help," he added. "These people are presenting a risk to others.
"I'm a really keen motorcyclist myself so I'm passionate about this."