Reformed bicycle thief talks about his life as cycle mechanic at Bethnal Green social enterprise

A young man who was arrested 38 times and in prison for five months after stealing thousands of bicycles is now selling and repairing bicycles in Bethnal Green.

Shenol Shaddouh, aged 19, was just 13-years-old, when he set up a small gang, who made a living from stealing and selling on bicycles to a network of dealers.

He is starring in a film, to be released next month, about how people with different backgrounds have turned their lives around after being trained as cycle mechanics at Bikeworks, a social enterprise on Cambridge Heath Road.

Shenol, who earns between �600 to �1,000 a month, depending on his hours, says he loves making a “legitimate” income after landing a full-time job at Bikeworks.

But while he hopes to build on his experience at Bikeworks, he is also working on designing a bicycle lock, impenetrable to thieves, which he plans to launch onto the market.

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It was after being kicked out of school after getting into fistycuffs with teachers and disturbing other children in the classroom that Shenol became a career criminal.

Shenol said: “I was waiting for a social worker to come and send me to another school, but nobody ever came, and somehow I slipped through the net.”

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Living on an estate in Islington, which Shenol describes as riddled with drugs, and car and bicycle theft, it didn’t take him long to turn to crime.

“I never had any money, and one day I had a hole in my trainer and couldn’t buy shoes, so I decided to make my own money.”

Together with a friend he then set about forming a group of up to five boys to steal bicycles.

“The main objective was to make money. We would travel all over London to places like Kensington, Chelsea, Victoria, Oxford Street, Peckham and Lewisham. We would never steel in our own back yard where we would get caught.

“On good days I would steal ten bicycles and on a bad day maybe two. I would break the lock or whatever the bike was chained to.”

Each bicycle could be sold onto dealers for anything from �50 to 1,000, while others would be taken apart and sold as parts, explained Shenol.

He was arrested no less than 38 times, but mostly for being tooled up to steal a bicycle after being stopped and searched by police.

“He said: “I would carry hand held cable, metal and bolt cutters, and pick keys.

“Sometimes we would even bring a scaffolding pole round to a job to twist and snap a lock.

“When we had a bit of extra money we would buy a really expensive lock to take apart and research how we could break it for future jobs.”

Despite only operating at day time Shenol mostly got away with it.

“Sometimes we got jumped on by what we called heroes - people in the street who tried to stop us.”

But one day the law caught up with Shenol, by then aged 17, while he sat watching TV.

“I had stolen a �4,000 bicycle from a car park, which was classed as burglary because it was indoors. I thought I had got away with it but had been caught on CCTV.

“Suddenly the police were knocking on my door with a warrant for my arrest. But I managed to climb out onto the roof and went on the run for five days.

“But in the end I ran out of friends to stay with and decided to hand myself in, to get it over and done with, thinking I was only going to be bailed.”

But it was all starting to add up, as Shenol was already on bail for carrying a taiser, classed as a firearm, and had been put on a tag which he cut before going on the run.

Instead of getting bail Shenol was remanded in custody for a month before being sent to prison at Feltham Feltham Young Offenders Institution in Hounslow for four month months.

“Jail wasn’t scary because I already knew so many of the people inside from my life outside. “But I hated being bored when locked in my cell. I like my freedom and don’t like being told when to eat and sleep.”

On release Shenol was assigned a resettlement worker, who found the key to unlocking his potential.

“I had told her I liked bicycles and she came back saying she had found this bicycle mechanics course with Bikeworks.

“The course was wicked. I enjoyed so much learning the names of all the different bicycle parts and how to do everything properly. I had only been guessing when trying to repair bikes we had stolen.”

After completing a level one course with Bikeworks Shenol moved on to a level two course through Tower Hamlets College before being employed with Bikeworks.

Currently he is a sales assistant in their shop, and does the odd repair job, until he gains more experience to repair bikes.

He said: “I would never ever think of stealing bikes again. I have to much to lose now and it would not be worth it.

“I don’t look down at people who steal bikes because I’ve done it myself, but I’m disgusted at that way of life now. I’ve seen the impact it has on people coming into the shop crying because their bike has been stolen.”

Shenol has now teamed up with a designer to try and design a lock to deter thieves.

He Said: “The smaller and more intricate the lock is the more difficult it is for someone to get a tool in there to wedge it.

“My goal is design a lock which completely stops the peddles from going round and start my own business bringing it onto the market.”

Barclays which funds the The Cycle Into Work course which Shenol completed at Bikeworks is releasing a film about three of the graduates. The two other graduates were homeless before taking part in the course.

Visit from October 3 to view the film.

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