A small bikie club in Victoria's north-east whose members were stripped of their firearm licences is a ''puppet'' of the Hells Angels and operates only with the notorious international club's permission, according to police.
The claim was made by a lawyer for Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay at a hearing at the Firearms Appeals Committee last week and foreshadowed the evidence police are likely to rely on when they apply to criminalise such clubs under new laws.
Members of the Wangaratta-based Tramps Motorcycle Club are appealing Mr Lay's decision to strip nine of them of their firearm licences on the basis they are not fit and proper persons to hold them.
Since stripping the Tramps - and dozens of other bikies - of their licences last year, Victoria Police has refused to explain why they are not considered fit and proper persons, but details finally emerged at last week's hearing.
Counsel for Mr Lay said the Tramps' long-standing ties to the Hells Angels - one of the ''big four'' clubs, along with the Comancheros, the Rebels and the Bandidos - had compromised them and forced them into the role of a puppet club. It was claimed the Tramps were previously a front for the larger Coffin Cheaters club.
Fairfax Media has been told the lawyer said the Tramps operated in the north-east of Victoria only with permission of the Hells Angels and therefore owed loyalty to the bigger club.
The Tramps have acknowledged in the past that they have long-standing ties to the Hells Angels, but have denied being a front for the bigger club.
''Mr Harding has no loyalty to any other club,'' said John Suta, a lawyer for Tramps president Ronny Harding. ''The police don't understand that you can maintain friendships with men from other clubs without giving anything in return.''
Police have asked that some of the evidence used to cancel the firearm licences be kept secret because it contains intelligence on ''outlaw motorcycle gangs'' and could identify a police source.
In a submission to the committee, police also said they needed to keep information from other police services - and material from ongoing investigations - secret.
This is significant because Victoria Police is on the verge of applying to the Supreme Court to have motorcycle clubs declared ''criminal organisations'' under laws passed by the state government last year. It is possible that evidence used to cancel the Tramps' firearm licences will also be used to declare it a criminal organisation.
Mr Suta said it was hard to represent his clients without seeing the police evidence.
Once an organisation is declared illegal, the court can ban members of the group from associating or participating in gang activities, including riding together and wearing their club colours and emblems. Similar orders from other states could be enforced in Victoria.
Individuals who breach a control order could face up to five years' jail and organisations can be fined up to $400,000 and have their assets confiscated.
The story Tramps motorcycle club 'puppets' of Hells Angels: police first appeared on The Age.