A THIEF who stole a bike belonging to a youngster with learning difficulties has had a change of heart and handed it back.

An online outpouring of anger may have prompted the criminal to return the beloved bike to autistic Christopher Armstrong, 11, who was ‘devastated’ when it went missing over the weekend.

“We’ve just been overwhelmed by the way people have rallied round to help us,” said dad John Armstrong.

“The police did so much, and people said things online too. “I think it must have got back to whoever took it.

“We’re just really pleased he has the bike back.”

Christopher, a pupil at Settlebeck School, Sedbergh, was in a bike accident at the age of five and, until last year, had refused to get back on two wheels.

Then last year he won the silver Ridgeback mountain bike in a Christmas raffle at Ambleside Primary School and, after six years, managed to conquer his fears.

But a thief, or thieves, stole the bike, which was stored underneath a cover at the side of his home, in Kirkstone Close, Ambleside, on Friday night, or in the early hours of Saturday.

“He was devastated when he found out it had been taken,” said Mr Armstrong.

“He screamed and was completely distraught at first.”

Over the weekend, dozens of people tweeted their disgust, branding it ‘shocking’ and ‘wrong on so many levels’.

Officers from Cumbria Constabulary knocked on doors, and took to social networks to spread the word, with Inspector Kevin Spedding saying the bike was Christopher’s ‘pride and joy’.

And, on Monday morning, the bike was found not far from the youngster’s home.

“We couldn’t believe it when we got a call from someone saying they’d found it,” said Mr Armstrong.

“We didn’t want to tell Christopher straight away because he was in school and we knew he’d be really distracted all day after that!”

Now anybody with information about the theft is urged to contact Cumbria Police on 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.