Some bike shops win the hearts of customers by actively fighting bike theft. Others, apparently, like to get in on the crime.
Earlier this month, a British bike shop owner was sentenced to two years in prison for his role in a bike-theft ring that frustrated cyclists in York, a city in the northern UK, for at least a month in 2016.
Phillip Rennison, 47, ran the since-closed Cycle City bike shop in Clifton Moor, a commercial district just north of the city. He opened shop in 2013 but later had financial troubles, racking up some £40,000 ($56,000) in debts, according to his lawyer. That’s when he brought together a scrappy, three-man gang of bike thieves worthy of an Elmore Leonard novel.
Here’s how the operation worked: A middleman, Andrew Elmer, scoped out bikes parked near the York Railway Station in the center of town. He then passed the intel on to John William Connelly, who was homeless at the time and whose lawyer said was dealing with a cocaine and heroin addiction. Connelly would steal the bikes and hand them off to Rennison, who sold the contraband out of Cycle City.
It all fell apart in late 2016 when police noticed Connelly acting suspiciously around the train station. They found tools for stealing bikes on his person and incriminating texts on his phone, as well as CCTV footage from nearby that had caught him in the act. Rennison and Elmer were soon picked up, and all three men confessed to conspiracy to steal between October and November of that year.
Though they only admitted to nabbing seven bikes worth a total of £4,700 ($6,500), the thieves by all accounts caused plenty of heartache for York cyclists.
“Many of the gang’s victims had invested a great amount of time and money in their bikes and were at a loss financially, as well as affecting their commutes or getting to and from the railway station,” a police spokesperson said in a statement. “These three men showed contempt for the victims and the cycling community of York by stealing property and portraying themselves as legitimate bicycle enthusiasts.”
Paul Batty, the city’s Honorary Recorder—an oh-so-British title given to the top judge in UK municipalities—was also dismayed at the blow against the bike community.
“York is the second largest cycling city in Britain behind only Cambridge,” he said. “Cycle routes and cycling generally are an integral part of the fabric and economy of both [the] city and indeed the university. The message has to go out loud and clear that those involved in this professional type of theft of bicycles in this city will receive deterrent sentences.”
Police have not yet recovered any bicycles stolen during the three men’s spree. Rennison, meanwhile, is reportedly bankrupt after losing his shop in the wake of the arrests. Connelly and Elmer will also serve two years each for the crime. Connelly’s sentence will be added to an existing 44-month jail term for unrelated robberies.
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