It’s been well over two years now since upholstery tacks first started appearing on Yarra Boulevard in Melbourne’s inner east. The quiet, 6.6km stretch of roadway has long been a favourite among local road cyclists and the dropping of tacks has almost certainly been an attempt to deter cyclists.
The case of the ‘Boulie tacks’ has been a source of great frustration since March 2014, not just for Melbourne’s cycling community, but also for local police, the City of Boroondara and for VicRoads. Somewhere between 500 and 800 punctures are believed to have been caused by the tacks in the past 27 months, with an estimated total cost exceeding $10,000. Worse, several cyclists have also been injured as a result of crashes caused by the tacks.
Several protest rides have been staged in the past year, local police have dedicated considerable time and resources to the case, and the roads authority has spent more than $100,000 on regular street-sweeping visits.
Now, 27 months after the first tacks were dropped, local police believe they might be a step closer to finding the so-called “Boulie Tacker”.
Yesterday afternoon Victoria Police released images of a man whom they believe will be able to assist with their inquiries. The man was spotted by CCTV cameras pulling apart one of several puncture repair stations set up along Yarra Boulevard for riders affected by the tacks. The images are grainy but appear to show a Caucasian man in his mid-30s who, according to Victoria Police appears to live locally “as he was dressed in only a white singlet, shorts and no shoes.”
Police have also released images of the car the man was driving; what appears to be a 2015 Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Senior Sergeant Mark Standish from the Boroondara Police believes the release of the images above represents a big step forward for this case.
“I think this is a significant breakthrough, certainly,” Senior Sergeant Standish told CyclingTips. “It’s given us a very strong avenue of inquiry.
“Whilst it relates to the theft of a pump station it’s on the Boulevard and the pump station relates to cyclists so this person, if we were able to identify them, would be a definite person of interest for the tack attacks.”
The CCTV images were captured just after 5:30am on Wednesday December 1 last year. Which raises the question: why did it take more than six months for the images to be made public?
“The images weren’t great so they needed technical enhancement and obviously there’s a queue we’ve got to get in there with CCTV footage,” Senior Sergeant Standish said. “VicPol’s got about 12,000 members and a large number of them have probably got similar issues or major issues in relation to the enhancement of their CCTV footage that might relate to a murder investigation, or whatever the case may be.
“So it’s just a natural thing where the job gets logged and we go in a queue and we’ve had to wait to get it done.”
With the enhancements complete, Victoria Police continued their investigation with the new information presented in the images.
“Obviously the investigator’s got to do some background work because we’re looking for a gunmetal grey Golf GTI, 2015 model. He’s got to do a lot of background work in relation to investigating that aspect of it properly.”
With that avenue of inquiry exhausted, it was time to release the images to the wider community.
“Now we’re looking for public support to have a look at that image,” Senior Sergeant Standish said. “We want the eyes and ears on the street down there. It’s been an issue for us, the nature of that road down there — there’s not a lot of natural surveillance from houses and things like that in parts of it. So it’s been a difficult one and this person’s been doing it predominantly, we suspect, under the cloak of darkness. It’s been a challenge for us to investigate that’s for sure.
“Somebody will know this fella and the car, connect the dots, and hopefully ring Crimestoppers and give us some avenues of inquiry that we can follow up.”
Should Victoria Police find the individual responsible for the tack attacks, they’ll then prepare a case involving several charges.
“We’re just looking at the criminal charges aspect of this thing and trying to bring it to the courts for things like Conduct Endangering Persons, or Conduct Causing Injury or Criminal Damage, Aggravated Litter, those types of things … Those offences that I’m talking about can bring up to a 10-year jail sentence.”
But the process will be far from easy.
“It’s one thing bringing it before the courts, it’s another thing to prove it and get a conviction. But we’ve collated a whole heap of information in relation to this issue over the last couple of years and we’ll certainly be doing our best on behalf of those who have been impacted, to bring this person to justice, to an appropriate level, that’s for sure.”
Should police find the individual responsible, there’s also the possibility of aggrieved cyclists initiating civil proceedings against the tacker.
It’s been more than two years of frustration for everyone involved in the case of the Boulie tacks and progress has been slow. But the release of images showing a potential suspect represents the biggest step forward in the case so far.
As ever, Victoria Police is urging anyone with relevant information to come forward.
“We just want the cyclists, if they see something down on the Boulevard at the time — perhaps they might see a car matching that description — [to] ring us on 000 straight away and we’ll come check it out,” Senior Sergeant Standish said. “Or get the rego for us if it [the car – ed.] leaves and make a confidential report through to Crimestoppers. That will be an avenue of inquiry that we can then follow up.
“I really feel for the cycling community and the people that have been impacted. We can try and put figures on the cost of punctures and that type of thing but it’s also the emotional cost to people, which is hard to quantify. So we’re really keen to get to the bottom of it and hopefully bring this person to justice down the track.”
Update #1: Police appear to have at least one lead as a result of their image release, courtesy of George Mihailides, organiser of several Boulie tacks protest rides.
“I’ve received information potentially identifying the person in the photo, which I’ve forwarded on to the police,” Mihailides told CyclingTips. “They seem very encouraged by it.”
Update #2: Boroondara Police have now released full video of the incident: