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Group fights back against Bristol gangs stealing motorbikes

The group are fighting back against motorbike thieves. Photo: ITV News

It's a hot summer's evening when I first meet Dom, Joe and Martin in Whitchurch. They're running late. But when they do arrive it's with good news.

At the back of their converted recovery van, stamped with the logo 'S.M.R.B' (Stolen Motorbike Recovery Bristol), sit two motorbikes. One is thought to be worth more than £12,000.

A tip-off at midnight last night led them to one of the bikes. They were contacted through their Facebook page and found the bike dumped on the side of the road. Badly damaged but still worth thousands of pounds to its owner.

The reason they're late isn't because of a lack of sleep. They couldn't get out of work on time. The trio all work full-time jobs, Dom and Martin have children, but this is their passion.

It's just a passion for bikes. That's what it is that's what we've all got. It's just horrible seeing the motorbikes go and seeing them taunt people in the Instagram pages.

– Martin

The taunting takes place all over social media. There are several Instagram accounts belonging to different gangs across Bristol which upload pictures of bikes they've stolen and vandalised. The gangs are notorious. They operate in different parts of the city with members as young as fourteen.

The gangs boast about the bikes they have stolen on social media. Credit: Instagram

Often their only aim is to steal bikes, ride them, then set them on fire. The situation has worsened in recent years and that's why Dom, Joe and Martin have stepped in.

We begin the patrol walking through brambles and bushes in a neighbouring park - a hotspot for dumped bikes. No luck this time, but the blackened grass and lumps of metal are evidence enough.

Debris from the stolen bikes is found where the gangs meet. Credit: ITV News

The team receives a call from one of the owners of the recovered bikes and it's time to move on. This will be the 47th stolen bike they've reunited with an owner.

Kay thought her bike was safe, but she became victim to the gangs. Credit: ITV News

I'm so happy. After three weeks I didn't think I'd ever see it again, it was gone. So really really happy.

– Kay

Kay had locked her bike in a compound, out of sight of the main road and in plain sight of a CCTV camera. But still the thieves succeeded.

Martin says it can take just seconds to steal a bike, especially if parked outside.

The team is one of a kind. A community project helping victims of crime but it's not without its risks. The team is equipped with stab proof vests and slash proof gloves. They are prepared for the worst as they look to undo the damage caused by the gangs.

Avon and Somerset Police is now working with the recovery team in what's thought to be one of the first partnerships of its kind in the country. But it's a relationship which has slowly evolved. The force is keen to stress the trio must strictly avoid any confrontation with the gangs. It's operation is purely to return abandoned bikes.

It's very carefully managed and it has to be ,and there are concerns for them out there. But in reality what they are doing is looking for bikes which belong to victims of crime where they have been dumped and they just looking to recover them. There's no vigilante element at all.

– Inspector Rob Cheeseman

This is an unprecedented relationship working to do good. With the help of the police, Dom, Joe and Martin can now track down owners in a matter of minutes. Helping victims save thousands of pounds.

Dom, Joe and Martin help victims save thousands of pounds. Credit: ITV News

In less than a year, the team have now recovered more than 50 bikes. It is perhaps no coincidence that the number of motorbikes being stolen has also fallen.

Although there is still someway to go to crackdown on the gangs and prosecute those responsible, the police are making progress. And for some of that success they have to thanks their new friends in the city's motorbiking community.