Police in London have described how they have broken up a vicious Santa-fighting ring. “This was a highly organised group of criminals who were arranging big-money fights between Santas,” explains Chief Inspector Jim Bobbler of Scotland Yard’s Seasonal Crimes Squad. “Tens of thousands of pounds a time were riding on the outcome of these cruel battles to the death.” The police operation, which had been ongoing since the beginning of December, culminated in a raid on an abandoned warehouse in Rotherhithe, where two Father Christmases, armed with carving knives, were locked in deadly combat, cheered on by a bloodthirsty crowd. “We arrived just in time,” says Bobbler. “One of the Santas had disarmed his opponent and was basting him prior to carving him up.” According to the Metropolitan Police, the gang was particularly cruel, recruiting itinerant Santas from the street, keeping them caged up for several days, systematically poking them with Christmas trees, whipping them with holly and burning them with Christmas lights so as to work them up into a fighting frenzy. The fights themselves – publicised via social networking sites and word of mouth – were held in empty warehouses and derelict factories, often with hundreds of baying spectators egging on their favoured Santa to kill his opponent. “The bare knuckle fights were bad enough, but the ones where they were allowed to use Christmas-themed weapons were the most disturbing,” observes Bobbler, who sat through hundreds of hours of illicitly-filmed footage of fights during the course of the investigation. “Trust me, you don’t want to see one white-bearded old man trying to strangle another with a string of tinsel. Or trying to stuff his opponent like a turkey. Truly shocking!” Over fifty arrests were made following the raid, including those of the gang’s leaders. Nevertheless, the police are warning that, although this gang has been taken down, the problem of illegal Santa fighting persists. “Whilst we may have taken out one of the main gangs, Santa fighting is a recurrent problem,” Bobbler admits. “It’s a seasonal thing. From mid-November onwards the Santas start to appear, selling mangy Christmas trees on street corners, collecting for dubious charities and making personal appearances in shopping centres. The gangs usually lure them into their web of violence with the offer of a glass of sherry and a couple of mince pies. If that doesn’t work, then a handful of small change usually does the trick.”

The Chief Inspector explained that the fights tend to reach a climax just before Christmas, when the Santas are still in plentiful supply, often lingering into early January, when there are still a few stray Santas about, desperate for work. However, it isn’t just St Nick who can fall prey to these unscrupulous gangs around the festive season. “We’ve had numerous cases of elf-related cruel sports, including elf coursing, where they’re chased by dogs, and even elf tossing,” says Bobbler. “Over in Eire there have been reports of youths on Dublin housing estates stealing Santa’s reindeer and riding them around the streets in illicit races.” Christmas isn’t the only religious festival which attracts the organisers of illegal blood sports – earlier this year Bobbler’s squad were instrumental in breaking up an illegal Easter Bunny shoot in Kent. Indeed, it isn’t just seasonal characters that these gangs force into illegal fights. “Outside of the usual religious festivals, they’ve been known to organise contests between football mascots, and even fast-food icons,” he claims. “Only last year we raided a big-money fight between Ronald MacDonald and Burger King – whilst the Ronald MacDonald was later successfully returned to the wild, the Burger King had to be put down as a result of his injuries.” However, he doubts that the gangs were behind the recent spate of Boris Johnson-baiting in London, which saw an obviously confused and disorientated Mayor trapped in a pit and poked with sticks on several occasions. “We think that was simply down to groups of disaffected youths,” he says, rejecting press allegations that former London Mayor Ken Livingstone was masterminding these events. “The perpetrators were taunting him with questions about his transport policies, asking where his Routemasters were. If Ken had been involved, he would have gone straight for the jugular and laid into Boris about his dodgy appointments and cronyism.”

Despite the police’s condemnation of Santa fighting, those behind the sport have defended it, claiming that they are actually providing a vital public service. “What people don’t seem to realise is that these creatures are vermin. Oh, I know that they seem very cute and appealing, with the festive connection and the present giving, but believe me, they’re an absolute menace,” an anonymous source told The Sleaze. “If we didn’t organise these events, they’d run amok. Make no mistake, our shopping centres and high streets would be overrun by these red-clad, white bearded, bastards, ringing bells, selling mangy Christmas trees and feeling up kiddies in department store grottos, if we didn’t keep their numbers under control!” According to the source, if they didn’t organise the Santa fights, then far less humane methods would have to be employed to keep Santa numbers manageable every December. “At least with the fights they have a chance – one of them gets away,” he points out. “A few years ago in Redditch, after the cops had run the Santa fighting gangs out of town in the Autumn, they found themselves engulfed by the festive fiends! They had to cull them – hunters were brought in to shoot them down in the streets and shopping malls. In front of screaming kiddies! It was hell! At least we don’t let children in to see our fights! Seeing that sort of stuff could traumatise them for life!” Not surprisingly, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Cultural Icons (RSPCCI), has little sympathy with this perspective. “This sort of thing really has to be stamped out,” says RSPCCI Inspector Sally Windstropp. “There can be no place in a civilised society for this sort of cruel bloodsport which pits poor dumb seasonal characters against each other. Frankly, I blame things like the X-Factor for making people think that the exploitation for entertainment of the desperate and untalented is acceptable.” Windstropp fears that unless Santa fighting is curbed, Britain risks having another of its festive traditions driven to extinction. “Left to their own devices these are shy and gentle creatures, which only seen once a year,” she says. “They need to be nurtured and cared for – we need to remember that Santa’s really are only for Christmas.”