A council committee decided not to revoke the licence of one of Europe’s largest biker festivals yesterday despite police fears of violence at the event.
Stratford-on-Avon District Council’s licensing committee said it had been presented with no evidence that the Bulldog Bash was “anything other than a well-managed public event” organised by law-abiding individuals.
Warwickshire’s Assistant Chief Constable Bill Holland had asked the panel to review the event’s licence due to “heightened” tensions between the Hells Angels and a rival gang.
In a written submission to the committee, Mr Holland claimed the Bulldog Bash, which is organised by the Hells Angels, posed a serious risk to public safety.
But the committee’s chairman, councillor Stephen Thirlwell, said it was dismissing the police application after considering all the circumstances.
Mr Thirlwell said: “The panel recognises that there may be tensions between rival gangs of motorbikers, and has taken police evidence of incidents into consideration, but it is not satisfied of any link between such events and the running of the Bulldog Bash.
The committee, sitting in Stratford-upon-Avon, also decided not to tighten the entry procedures for the four-day festival, which begins at nearby Long Marston on August 6.
Mr Thirlwell added: “Taking the evidence in the round, we have found the evidence of genuine associations with Bulldog Bash and serious crime to be tenuous at best.
“The off-site violent incidents relied upon by the police may be part of the background picture, but they fall well short of an association with serious crime on which the panel can act.”
The panel had been invited to consider revoking or altering the licence of the festival amid police fears that the intense rivalry between the Hells Angels and the Outlaws may lead to violence.
Held for the past 18 years at Long Marston, the Bulldog Bash was granted a 10-year licence to operate by the council in May last year.
But Warwickshire Police sought a further review of the event’s licence, claiming tensions between the two gangs following the jailing of seven men for rioting at Birmingham International Airport pose a “serious risk” to innocent members of the public.
In submissions to the panel, counsel for the force, Simon Walsh, said: “This is not the same case as the case being put forward last year.
“Of course much of the background is similar, but events that have taken place since that hearing mean that the risk, as far as the police are concerned, has increased. The heightened risk means we must do something – we need to take proactive steps ... in order to ensure the safety of the citizens of this county.”
The Bulldog Bash attracts tens of thousands of bikers and music fans each year and police acknowledge only a very small minority of those present pose a risk of violence.
Michael Bromley-Martin QC, representing the organisers of the event, disputed claims that policing last year’s event had cost the Warwickshire force more than £1.4 million.
In his closing submission to the panel, Mr Bromley-Martin said: “There is no evidence whatsoever that the Hells Angels organisation, as opposed to individual members of the organisation, are involved in organised crime.”
The council committee had been aware of the “dreadful” violence at Birmingham Airport in January 2008 when it made its decision to grant the 10-year licence, the lawyer stressed.
“There is nothing in the history of the Bulldog Bash which suggests that the risk of violence is any greater there than anywhere else.”