Schoolboys in pounds 20,000 bike racket walk free

NINE schoolboys who stole mountain bikes worth more than pounds 20,000 have been let off with a caution by police, it was revealed last night.

The gang of 15-year-olds operated for more than seven months and stole at least 30 bikes - ranging from pounds 70 to pounds 2,000 - 'to order'. They had even set up a 'storage depot' in a derelict house.

Police said the gang, based in Reading, Berkshire, was so organised they kept inventories and would even follow cyclists to work or break into property to get their hands on a specific model which had been ordered.

But the teenagers will not face criminal charges. Detective Chief Inspector Adrian Becks, head of Reading CID, said detectives were following Home Office guidelines encouraging cautioning to keep juvenile offenders out of court.

He said: 'In this instance they stole pedal cycles and as a first offence, with a genuine show of remorse, they were cautioned.

Sir Gerry Vaughan, Tory MP for Reading East, branded the ticking-off a 'disgrace' and said it merely encouraged others to take up crime. 'It shows how urgent the need is for the Home Secretary to do something. We need a few disciplinarian sentences with a lot of publicity.'