Tracking Corby's illegal motorbikes: on the streets with the police team rooting out the off-road criminals

‘They know the car, but because it’s unmarked it gives us that extra few seconds’

Friday, 20th May 2022, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 20th May 2022, 7:17 am
Officers speak to members of the public on the Kingswood Estate
Officers speak to members of the public on the Kingswood Estate

Pinned to a board in the Corby police hub is the name and face of every person this team knows to be involved in riding and selling illegal off-road motorbikes.

Officers have spent months collating intelligence and piecing together snippets of information to try to find out the identities of those behind the decades-old issue that has been a scourge on the law-abiding neighbourhoods of Corby.

And their efforts are working, with 13 illegal bikes confiscated since March and several successful court summons issued.

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Some of the bikes seized during the past two months of Operation Pacify

Our reporters were invited out with the team running Operation Pacify, which sees dedicated Northants Police officers trying to root out the criminals who continue to ride and trade illegal bikes.

It’s a sunny Friday in Corby. We head to the Lincoln Estate. Here, and on the adjacent Kingswood estate, is where a significant cluster of the off-road offenders live.

We’re in an unmarked car, which PC Mark Walker says gives his team ‘that few extra seconds’.

"They know the car,” he says.

This bike was seized in Bonnington Walk, Corby, on May 4.

“But because it’s unmarked they might not spot us straight away so we have some extra time to see what they’re wearing and what they’re riding.”

Officers have also found hotspots on the Oakley Vale estate and around Stephenson Way as well as the old Blackhills site behind Tesco.

Earlier this month they followed a bike from the Blackhills to Weldon and seized it. They discovered it had previously been involved in a serious incident.

Operation Pacify officers have a handheld video camera that that use to capture good quality footage. Unlike car-mounted cameras, they can focus in on the faces of the perpetrators or elements of their bikes or clothing which provides a catalogue of information that can be then cross-referenced to build up a picture of the riders.

PCSO Gaz Baxter and PC Mark Walker of the Corby Neighbourhood Policing Team patrol Crick Close in Corby

"It could be something as simple as the colour of a jacket,” says PC Walker.

"If we can then spot that jacket on CCTV footage from somewhere else or on someone riding a different bike we can start to work out who owns which bikes and where they’re storing them.”

These officers have the power to search parts of people’s property if they have cause to believe they are storing one of the off-road bikes. But with hundreds of part-abandoned garages around Corby and numerous dark corners and a network of alleyways on the Lincoln estate, finding where the bikes are kept is often the most difficult job for officers.

But this is where the people of Corby come in.

"It could be just that one call,” says PC Walker.

"A description could match something we already know about someone.

"We know 90 per cent of the bikes, who’s on them, where they’re coming from.

"I’ve had emails from more than 120 people since we started this op with some really valuable information. I reply to them all. It’s important they know that there’s someone listening to what they’re saying.”

And as we’re driving round the Shire Lodge estate, on the lookout for the usual suspects, a call comes in to the force control room.

A member of the public has seen a girl riding a quad bike around the field between the Kingswood and Lincoln estates. PC Walker phones back the caller himself within seconds.

When we arrive he gets out of the car with his camera to try to find the suspect while PCSO Gaz Baxter drives the car around. But the search is futile and we all get back in the car and carry on.

PCSO Baxter knows all the repeat offenders on the estate by name.

While we’re on the estate, a purple quad bike being driven by what looks like an adult male on his knees nips in front of us and under a pedestrian walkway. But by the time we’ve driven along the road to get to the other side of the alley, the bike has disappeared.

The officers spot a group of men who have all previously been arrested for motoring offences. One of them – another banned driver - is sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, but it’s barely moving.

We stop, and PCSO Baxter and PC Walker ask him what he was doing. He says he was just sitting in the vehicle and that it’s not currently running. They argue, but it’s good-natured. His friends wander over and have a chat.

“We don’t want this to become a game of cat and mouse really,” says PCSO Baxter later. “You’ve got to be careful because you don’t want them seeing it all as a challenge.”

Riding off-roaders is baked into Corby’s culture. For decades people have complained about illegal scramblers, dirt bikes, quads and mini-motos speeding around local fields and in pedestrian areas, their riders unprotected by helmets and leathers.

The popularity of off-roaders in the town can be traced back to the post-steelworks era where acres of no-man’s brownfield land, complete with mountains of industrial waste, provided the perfect playground for the bikes.

But with those patches of land now fenced-off, sold-off or built-on, the off-roaders have migrated to the roads and playing fields of Corby.

Out of 120 emails that PC Walker has received since Operation Pacify began, the vast majority have been from Corby. There were none from Kettering.

If they catch a bike being ridden on a public area, police can issue a Section 59 notice which covers both the bike and the rider separately. If they’re caught riding again, or someone else is riding the same bike, it can be seized.

“People see this as motorcycle ‘nuisance’, but it’s not,” says PC Walker.

"It’s not low-level stuff. This is really dangerous.

"A lot of the time they’re riding on pavements and some of the most serious injuries we see come from motorbike incidents.

"We’re stopping people from being killed."

And last summer, the unthinkable almost happened when a 16-year-old boy had to be airlifted to hospital after crashing an off-road bike into a parked car in Gainsborough Road. He survived, but was left with serious injuries.

"We know kids make mistakes so everything we do is proportional,” said PC Walker.

"The last thing we want to do is get that kid into the court system. We do use our discretion.”

Officers are now building a complex picture of the most prolific offenders thanks to help from the public.

"I’ve had people send me Ring doorbell footage, dashcam footage and even images they’ve managed to get by just holding their mobile phones up,” says PC Walker.

Nine court summons have been issued to off-roaders as well as thirteen bikes seized in recent weeks.

"They’re also being used for moving drugs around the town,” says PC Walker.

"They're quick and hard to stop and I’ve seen one rider stuffing drugs down his hoodie before driving off.”

There’s a misconception that many of the people riding these bikes are children, but they’re not. The majority are adults who have nothing better to do with their time. For many of them, this is sport.

After driving around the Oakley Vale estate we are called back to Boston Close where we spot two teens on the back of a mini-moto. They have helmets on but this bike is clearly not roadworthy. They spot the unmarked car and clock it, before speeding off towards Saxilby Close where they disappear.

Meanwhile, PC Walker is on foot chasing a different bike.

Both get away but this has been a fruitful day for Op Pacify. Intel has been gathered and stored and some of it might be vital to future prosecutions.

You can follow the progress of Operation Pacify on the Kettering and Corby Neighbourhood Policing Facebook Page.

Anyone with information on off-road bikes being ridden, traded or stored illegally can email PC Walker at [email protected] in complete confidence, anonymously if necessary.

- Ryan David Corr, 27, of Sargent Road, Corby, will appear before Northampton Magistrates’ Court this morning (May 20) charged with driving a motorcycle in Beanfield Avenue on March 3 while disqualified, with no licence, with no insurance and not wearing the correct protective gear.