Read my latest New Zealand Herald column here
Few things are more baffling and self-defeating than confessing to a crime you didn't commit. Yet it's remarkably common. It's also intriguing and disturbing how they come about.
Read my latest New Zealand Herald column here
"Jamie has a moral compass that dances around a bit but in rough-enough ways it generally points in the right directions."
Read it here
In my column in the Herald today I outlined some serious concerns that I have with the New Zealand Police's restrictions on academic freedom.
Below is a copy of the contract that researchers must sign. The key sections are 8.2, 8.3 and 11.2(d).
At one time the Epitaph Riders were perhaps the staunchest and most respected outlaw club in New Zealand, but they are no more. Last week their colours were burned and the club closed down. Here is the story of their early history. I wrote it for PATCHED as part of their remarkable war with the Devils Henchmen. RIFP.
The Epitaph Riders was formed in 1969 by a bunch of friends in a large house on Geraldine Street in Christchurch. Although there was a nominal president, Ross Jennings, initially there were few, if any, rules and no club structure. Like other outlaw motorcycle clubs in the South Island around this time (such as the Antarctic Angels of Invercargill and the Highwaymen of Timaru), and before they had significant contact with the more mature scene in the North Island, the Epitaph Riders took their cues largely from popular media. A member of the Riders recalled:
That book Hell’s Angels that Hunter Thompson I think wrote – that was out and we just – it all just sort of happened and we were all running around with this stuff [patches] on our back and um that’s how it started . . . We didn’t [know what we were doing] we were just a bunch of young guys, mate, that just hung around. We’re all fuckin’ 17, 18, the oldest would have been 21 probably. And it’s just the way it happened. We all used to meet on Friday nights and just go drink piss – it just started from there . . . Drink piss and fuck women. There was nothing else in life – riding bikes.
By 1973, however, the Epitaph Riders had matured significantly. The group was now comprised of young men from working-class backgrounds aged in their late teens to mid-twenties, and boasted some 22 patched members, including an executive consisting of a president, two vice presidents and a sergeant at arms. By this time, rules were also in place to ensure the club was a significant part of its members’ lives.
The increasing commitment to the club is reflected in a decision made in August 1973 making it compulsory for members to attend weekly meetings and a Sunday run as well as any parties the group decided to have. A rented flat was used as a clubhouse and weekly fees of two dollars were collected along with an additional one-dollar levy for beer on the Sunday rides. Fees were used for club expenses including subsidising major runs, helping members in trouble, and paying fines incurred during group activities. The communal behaviours of the group are, in substantial measure, a reflection of the wider social environment of the time. The club’s colours were also held in significant esteem. While colours were only compulsorily worn on runs, it was against club rules to deny being a member of the club. In the mid-1970s, one member even rode to teachers’ training college on his bike wearing his patch. It would be impossible to conceive of this occurring now without a public uproar, reflecting a dramatic change in attitudes toward such groups.
Although the Epitaph Riders’ motorcycles were kept meticulously clean, members had adopted the ‘ridgies’ style, that was by this time standard within the gang scene. ‘Ridgies’ (derived from ‘originals’) is the set of original clothing a member was wearing when he was initiated into the gang and given his colours. These clothes were regarded as sacred and never washed so they soon became dirty and tatty. The custom may have come about initially as an inevitable outcome of members working on their machines and travelling and sleeping rough while on runs. It soon, however, became the desired look – a form of gang uniform. Yet ridgies were also more than a uniform. Grease from vehicle breakdowns, dirt from motorcycle trips around New Zealand, blood from fights and fluids from sexual encounters all mixed together to become part of a subcultural, or countercultural, style imbibed with symbolic meaning. As one Mongrel Mob member put it: ‘To wash them would be to wipe away the memory of our conquests and history.’ When ridgies fell apart, they were either patched up or a similar item of clothing was sewn underneath.
As they were for all gangs, the clothes undoubtedly represented a visible expression of the Epitaph Riders’ antisocial stance, and many of the members had convictions for petty offences. In what is now a common – and important – refrain, the police were perceived as an enemy and many of the club’s members believed they were unfairly targeted and victimised. Fighting was a significant activity that demonstrated machismo as well as instilling group loyalty that the club actively fostered. With an ‘all for one, and one for all’ philosophy, if any member got into a fight, regardless of fault, other members were required to back him up. This fighting ethos was central to enhancing the group’s reputation and ensuring that people thought twice about confronting its members. In Christchurch, the Riders engaged in many conflicts with other fledgling gangs, and particularly budding outlaw clubs. Like other Biker Federation clubs, the Epitaph Riders had determined that they would be the only outlaw club in their city. In the early 1970s, at least three other groups – the Apostles, the Heaven’s Outcasts, and the Highwaymen – were beaten or intimidated by the Riders and had their colours taken. Vanquished, these groups disappeared and the Riders maintained a firm grip on Christchurch. By 1973, the Epitaph Riders were a well-established outlaw motorcycle club, and with their frequent travels around the country it is widely acknowledged by those in the scene at the time that they held a reputation as among the country’s staunchest, and consequently one of the most respected, groups within the biker – and indeed the entire gang – community. In biker parlance, they were class.
[References for the above can be found in PATCHED - likewise the story of their dramatic war with the Devils Henchmen].
As discussed in my column in the New Zealand Herald, below is the report of a study of young people who went to prison but have been crime free since release. This research was undertaken on behalf of the Department of Corrections by Ben Elley and I via Independent Research Solutions.
Read it below or download a PDF here.
"Rachael King and I had a drink at Christchurch airport and another when we arrived at the Whanganui Writers Festival".
So begins my write-up of the festival that was published here.
It led me to the strangest place in New Zealand: Jerusalem. Below are the photos I took.
If you missed it, here's my latest column in the New Zealand Herald. The Coral Burrows description is tough to read (and write).
Too early in the morning to serve beer? Humbug!
I paid a fine Maori beggar $10 to solve that problem. He walked me to a strange little bar focused on gambling instead of liquor licencing laws. The beer was under the counter and Waikato Draft. We shared a drink and I went to buy a second but my companion declined. Drinking was a breach of his bail conditions. He went to a pokie machine. In a flash he was up over $40. Take it out, I suggested. And he did. This day was on its way to being a winner and I was on my way to Wintec Press Club.
There are few better lunches hosted anywhere. Steve Braunias pulls a fine crowd; in fact the company is arguably the defining draw card. Waikato Draft alone would not do it.
Guest speaker Mihingarangi Forbes would have been enough but she unexpectedly teamed up with Annabelle Lee in a one-two act rivalling my all time favourites: as important as Woodward and Bernstein, as easy to watch as Bert and Ernie.
The pair discussed Maori journalism and political manifestations involved in Maori television. It was an inspired talk delivered seamlessly. Even my new mate Don Brash, so far from Orewa, seemed to nod in approval on occasion. But that could have been the drink. Mine, not his.
By this time the wine was flowing sweetly. That grand lubricant of journalistic minds spurred us on to the after match function. I left my name tag on and a senior Waikato policeman recognised it. Best I be on good behaviour, I thought. I had some concerns as we were at the same place that following the last Wintec event a great investigative friend of mine turned green at the gills, lost some weight and his sense of direction home.
It is for these, and dancing reasons, that I shall not mention names from this point onwards. Except one. Russel Brown - Public Address to his friends. Russell had alerted me to M H Holcroft who in 1966 had plagiarised an idea in my last week’s New Zealand Herald column and one that would be important to my next book. In a twist of luck he found a book by Holcroft in a second hand bookstore adjacent to the bar. In my delight I thought he had purchased it for me. In the last day or two it has occurred to me that he may have been showing it, rather than giving it, to me. Nevertheless I asked him to sign it and with that quite possibly stole it.
The evening turned a little cold and so I wrapped myself in a blanket kindly shared with me by a journalist with younger bones than me. At which point I was told I looked like, excuse me for this, a vagina. When I say I was told that I mean it was posted to Twitter: the journalists’ drug of choice.
All criminals need a disguise, I thought, as I leaned down to feel the comfort of Russell’s book in my bag.
Slowly, those who were driving home or, sensing what was ahead, fearing for their lives, slipped away. A hard-core of rascals and ratbags remained. Those of such madness that Sambuca shots appear as the solution to all things real and imagined.
By this time, the wise and witty words of Braunias, Forbes and Lee were long gone, replaced by terrible madness. I looked out into the Hamilton night wistfully. I watched a dear friend weaving down the footpath.
I wondered if that Maori beggar was about and if he could loan me $40 for a cab ride home.
My latest column for the New Zealand Herald on the 1965 Mt Eden Prison Riot can be found here
Today one of the men convicted of killing crown witness Christopher Crean was released on bail. This is the story of that sensational and tragic murder.
In March 1996, a group of Black Power members had attacked a member of the Mongrel Mob outside Christopher Crean’s house in Taranaki. The incident was brutal. The Mob member’s face was slashed, and several of his fingers were severed with a tomahawk. Crean witnessed the attack and chose to testify against the attackers. Black Power threatened him and suggested that testifying would not be in his best interests. Police offered witness protection, but Crean refused it – a refusal which, while brave, ultimately proved fatal, as Black Power set about plotting his murder. Since 1988, Black Power members from the Taranaki region had twice beaten murder charges. Crown Prosecutor Tim Brewer felt that these cases helped convince the gang they were invincible. Crean, a street-preaching Christian, told his family that God would protect him. His family was less certain. His mother said: ‘I told him he was dealing with the real world, not the spiritual world. But he didn’t have any fear.’
Twice, on the last two Sundays of September 1996, the planned hit on Crean was abandoned – on the second of those nights, Crean was carrying his child and the would-be hit man felt compassion for the youngster. On 6 October, it was deemed that the hit would proceed regardless of circumstances. That night, a gunman carrying a 30-30 Winchester lever-action rifle approached Crean’s house and knocked on the door. As Crean went to answer, a shot was fired. The glass panel in the door offered little resistance and the bullet flew through it, entering Crean’s stomach and exiting out of his back. He died in hospital the next day. The use of a stomach shot was pre-planned as it was considered that a head shot through the door might miss. A Taranaki Black Power member said that the killing had sent a clear message to potential pros- ecution witnesses: ‘Oh, well they know now. Who . . . wants to get in the stand now?’ The implications of this killing for the justice process were plain: if the gang escaped penalty this time, future testimony against gangs would become increasingly difficult to obtain. The police moved quickly to bring closure to the case. Despite the seeming confidence that the killing would deter further wit- nesses, it was from within the gang that crucial evidence was to come. The New Plymouth chapter’s president and the gang prospect who drove the getaway car both gave evidence against their own gang. Four Black Power members were convicted of murdering Crean and given mandatory life sentences.
The fact that the Taranaki Black Power went after what in the gang scene is often referred to as a ‘baldhead’ or ‘citizen’ (meaning a person without gang or criminal associations) is highly unusual. In 2009, Crown Prosecutor Brewer confided:
At the time I was unaware of a precedent, and I’m not aware of one [other example] now. This guy [Crean] wasn’t in the gang milieu, he wasn’t in a gang, he was a bona fide member of the public – and it was a very big line for them to cross . . . they didn’t see themselves as the enemy of everybody – they saw themselves as the enemy of the police and the enemy of other gangs. This was stepping outside their ethos.
Most gang members limit their violence to other gangs or gang-associated people. Despite rhetoric about the pressing danger of gangs, ordinary people, or ‘citizens’, ordinarily have very little to fear from gang members, a view endorsed by Cam Stokes, former detective sergeant in charge of the police unit investigating outlaw motorcycle clubs in Auckland: ‘Indirectly they cause harm to many people [via the drug trade and associated problems], but in terms of direct things, no, not a great deal of risk, unless you are involved somehow with them.’
An undercover police officer who infiltrated gangs during two operations in the North Island agrees: ‘The only people who I think have got anything to fear from gangs are people who are intimately connected to them in some manner. They don’t give a toss about the other bal’ heads and squares . . . I mean, you know, who are they to the gang? Nobody.’ Another undercover police officer, when asked if gangs were a threat to the wider public, said:
No, no I don’t think so. But if you have a debt with them or you have done something to one of their family members or you are exceptionally wealthy [and in their circles] and you flaunt that and they see you as an easy target, then yes you do. But your “average Joe” blue collar worker who goes to work in a factory and goes home at night, no.
The fact that Black Power’s New Plymouth president testified in the trial against the killers of Christopher Crean is strong evidence that he, at least, considered the actions of his fellow gang members had crossed a line.
NOTE: All references for quotes etc can be found in Patched pp.201-203.
I reserve the right to change my mind in the face of superior evidence.
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