By Mohammed Rahman Lecturer in Criminology

Few of us in Britain have probably heard of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club (HAMC) – an internationally renowned biker organisation that boasts of having 425 chapters across 50 countries.  Fewer have probably heard of Gerry Tobin, a former Hell’s Angels member who was gunned down on 12th August 2007 by several members of the Outlaws MC (OMC).  Today (Saturday 12th August) marks the 10 year death anniversary of Gerry’s death.  The relevance of this blog is to acknowledge the nature of Gerry’s murder within the context of the motorcycle underworld, which has been overlooked and neglected by British academic criminologists.

Known as ‘Gentleman Gerry’ by his HAMC comrades, Gerry was a ‘patched’ member who worked as a mechanic for Harley Davidson in London, England.  Little is known about his activity within the Hell’s Angels, but the organisation is widely considered to hold members who are involved in various forms of transnational organised crime.  Having established itself in California, USA in 1948 – the HAMC were quick to gain territory across the world, and London was their first European country to attain a ‘charter’ in 1969.  Since then, the HAMC have set up 17 other ‘chapters’ across England.  Their members have been involved in drug-related gangland assassinations and violent confrontations with rival clubs, such as the Outlaws.  A quick search on Google will tell us that the HAMC and OMC encompass men who are involved in lucrative, expansive and violent forms of organised crime.  Yet, in the UK, little is known about their crimes or the cultures that they inhabit.  Journalistic and ‘true crime’ sources have often considered the rivalry between the HAMC and OMC, and while this blog is unable to ‘critically’ explore this, it can be said that this rivalry has often encompassed violent confrontations, which has often led to murders.  This brings us to the case of Gerry Tobin.

My PhD level research investigated Gerry’s murder, as the thesis considered the structural backdrop to lethal violence within organised crime in the West Midlands, England.  Additionally, I recently wrote an article with my colleague Dr. Adam Lynes, which was a ‘theoretical thinkpiece’ (currently under review in the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice) of Gerry’s murder.  Gerry attended the 2007 annual “Bulldog Bash”, which had taken place at Long Marston Airfield in Warwickshire, England.  On the afternoon of 12th August 2007, he left the bash and was riding his motorcycle homewards towards London on the M40 motorway alongside two fellow members.  At about 2.30pm, just south of junction 15, a green Rover 420 pulled out of a lay-by.  One of its occupants – Sean Creighton, an Outlaws MC member, fired a single shot from a revolver at Gerry.  He was killed instantly.  Another shot from the car was fired at the rear wheel of his motorcycle.  Six other applicants were found guilty of Gerry’s murder, and received life imprisonments, with minimum tariffs ranging between 25 to 30 years.  The murder of Gerry Tobin, is the first recorded case in England of a murder committed by the OMC on a HAMC member.  The police were unable to establish a motive, and closed the case by suggesting the Gerry’s death was a result of the ongoing global warfare between the HAMC and OMC.

Based on the brief descriptions above, there are some criminological thoughts to be considered.  As a discipline, criminology often overlooks the significance of ‘space’ in cases of homicide.  Gerry’s assassination was executed on a motorway – an unusual place to commit a gangland style ‘hit’.  I was told by retired police officer that Creighton was “lucky” to have pulled the hit off.  However, I believe otherwise.  Creighton, was an ex-offender who had regular access to firearms, and once arrested, the police discovered weaponry and a dummy target at the OMC clubhouse, which they believed was used by Creighton to practice the hit.  Moreover, we should not forget that the police had a difficult time gathering forensic evidence at the crime scene.  Creighton and his assailants would have been aware of this, and this would have been essential in their decision making to execute the hit.

We also need to be mindful of the cultural significance of Gerry’s hit.  For biker fraternities like the HAMC and OMC, the ‘motorcycle’, and the ‘patches’ that bikers wear on their leather jackets are keynote symbols, that should always be maintained, honoured and respected.  In simple terms, the patches are treated in the manner that military personnel would treat their service stripes.  Creighton and his assailants would have been well aware of the ‘cultural currency’ of successfully executing the hit.  They knew that killing a fully patched member like Gerry while he rode his motorcycle, and subsequently allowing his patches to touch the dirt of the M40 motorway, would have been the ultimate sign of disrespect.  Consequently, this would have made other HAMC vulnerable of riding their bikes whilst fully patched.  Indeed, the OMC achieved this objective immediately after the hit based on the reaction of one of the two bikers that rode with Gerry.  Seeing Gerry dead on the motorway, witnesses described how one of the bikers walked up to the deceased, turned him over, and ripped his patches off his leather jacket.  The premise of this is that the emblems belong to the club, and should never fall into the wrong hands.  This puts into perspective of the cultural mindset of a HAMC biker – one that is programmed to place the club above human life.

It is no surprise that the two bikers who rode with Gerry did not cooperate with police investigations, even though they witnessed the murder.  This characteristic is not foreign within criminal fraternities, and aligns with the notion of omertà, which is prevalent among the Italian Mafia, who expect their members to adhere to a code of silence about any criminal activity.  By successfully adhering to a code of silence, criminal fraternities can then take control of an alternative criminal justice process, which often entails homicidal reprisals.  Thus by positioning themselves as ‘criminal undertakers’ (Hall, 2012), individuals aim to journey from the ranks of the exploited to the exploiters (Winlow, 2014).

As aforementioned, there is a global history of violence amongst the HAMC and OMC.  In essence, their core values revolve around motorcycles, patches, brotherhood and violent practice.  In short, it can be said that they are in warfare with the ‘mirror image’, as both fraternities occupy men whom in the capitalist era undertake ‘special liberties’ (Hall, 2012), by configuring their ethical codes (Freud, 1923) to employ harm, in order to elevate themselves within an asocial hierarchy.