A GANG of professional bicycle thieves headed by the owner of a York bike shop has been jailed.

John William Connelly, 34, targeted the bike parks at York Railway Station time and time again as he stole bikes to order, said Laurie Scott, prosecuting.

Middle man Andrew Elmer, 39, passed Connelly details of which bike models to steal and handed the stolen bikes to Phillip Rennison, 47, owner of Cycle City bike shop in Clifton Moor. None of the stolen bikes have been recovered.

Most of the rightful owners couldn’t afford to replace them and had to find alternative more time-consuming or more expensive means of getting to work or university - and one had to abandon plans to go on charity fund-raising rides.

Those who did manage to replace them told police they now feared leaving bikes in cycle parks in case they were stolen, York Crown Court heard.

“These defendants didn’t care about that, they were only in it for the money,” the Honorary Recorder of York, Judge Paul Batty QC, said.

“York is the second largest cycling city in Britain behind only Cambridge. Cycle routes and cycling generally are an integral part of the fabric and economy of both 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.”

Rennison, of Starkey Crescent, Tang Hall, who has been involved in the cycle trade for years, was jailed for two years.

His long-time friend, Elmer, of Boltby Road, York, who introduced him to Connelly, was jailed for 16 months, as was Connelly, 34, who was living on the streets of York at the time and comes from Lancashire.

Connelly’s sentence was consecutive to the 44 months he is already serving for two robberies.

All three admitted conspiracy to steal between October 1, 2016, and November 3, 2016.

For Rennison, Neal Kutte said the cycle shop he set up in 2013 had run into difficulties with debts of £40,000.

“That is why, frankly, he became involved in this venture,” he said. “He bitterly regrets what he has done and he wishes to apologise.”

Cycle City had since folded and Rennison had been made bankrupt, said the solicitor advocate.

Elmer was the middle man and was not paid for his involvement, said Mr Kutte.

For Connelly, Chris Richards said he was in the grip of a cocaine and heroin habit at the time and all he cared about was getting money for drugs.

Ms Scott said the most expensive bike stolen was worth £1,800 and altogether the seven bikes stolen were worth £4,729.

British Transport Police spotted Connelly behaving suspiciously near the bike racks on November 3, she said

He was equipped with specialist bike stealing equipment and a knife. Checking CCTV they realised he had stolen other bikes on other occasions.

They also found many text messages on his phone discussing the type of bike to be stolen between him and the other two defendants.