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»Ambitious plans by the owner of a small business to open a branch at Europe’s largest cycle park hang in the balance after £38,000 worth of bikes were stolen during a shop break-in.

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Police believe thieves who stole a haul of almost 30 premium mountain bikes during a raid lasting half an hour, gained access through the sky-light at The Bike Shop, in Windmill Street, Gravesend, on Thursday.

The well-known business has traded in the town since 1999 but in the early hours it was targeted in a planned operation.

It came as a double blow to the family-run business, which has been affected by the recession and re-introduction of Saturday parking charges in the new year.

The break-in came a day before manager Joseph Tickner, 25, was to put in an offer on a shop in Cyclopark, due to fully open at Northfleet, in May. However, because of the burglary, he has had to make a reduced offer on the shop.

He said: “We don’t know how it will affect our chances. We made an offer on Friday night but we had to reduce our original offer as we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.

“The robbery will affect our insurance premiums, which will obviously rise due to any pay-out from the insurance company.”

Twenty-seven Giant Cycle and Trek Cycle bikes ranging from £1,200 to £2,800, were stolen in the raid.

Burglars broke in via the skylight on the second floor of the 35 to 40ft building.

Mr Tickner said: “It’s obviously pretty upsetting that people can do this to family-run businesses.

“The police have been really helpful and are looking into it. They have spoken to some witnesses who saw a van at the back of the shop.

He said that he and his family had been touched by messages of support that had come in since the raid, adding: “It takes something to go wrong to realise the standing you have in the local community.”

Mr Tickner urged residents to be aware of buying the stolen bikes.

He said: “Be careful of when you are buying a second-hand bike. Check that the seller has a proof of purchase and check the serial numbers on the frames are intact. If it’s brand new, unused and cheap, it’s probably stolen.”

If you have any information about the robbery, or witnessed anything suspicious, call Kent Police on 101 or Kent Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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