'Bin food theft' charges dropped
Charges have been dropped against three men accused of stealing waste food from bins behind a branch of Iceland.
Questions were raised over the criminal action against Paul May, 35, Jason Chan and William James, after the frozen food firm said staff had not alerted police and that it had contacted prosecutors to ask why action was being taken.
Today Baljit Ubhey from the Crown Prosecution Service said: "This case has been reviewed by a senior lawyer and it has been decided that a prosecution is not required in the public interest. While the decision to charge was taken by the Metropolitan Police Service, a subsequent review of the case by the CPS did not give due weight to the public interest factors tending against prosecution.
"In reconsidering this case, we have had particular regard to the seriousness of the alleged offence and the level of harm done. Both of these factors weigh against a prosecution. Additionally, further representations received today from Iceland Foods have affected our assessment of the public interest in prosecuting."
The three men, who all live in a squat in north London, were facing prosecution over claims they took tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese and Mr Kipling cakes from bins behind a branch of Iceland in Kentish Town.
The retailer said that the store is next to a police station and that officers had attended "on their own initiative".
Details of the case were revealed in the Guardian newspaper, which reported that the stolen items were worth £33, and that the trio had been charged under the 1824 Vagrancy Act.
A statement on the Iceland website said: "The store in question is next door to a police station. Iceland staff did not call the police, who attended on their own initiative. Nor did we instigate the resulting prosecution, of which we had no knowledge until the media reports of it appeared yesterday evening."
The case highlighted the the practice of "skipping", where people take goods such as food and clothes from bins in a bid to minimise waste.
Ms Ubhey added: " We hope this demonstrates our willingness to review decisions and take appropriate and swift action when necessary. The Crown Prosecution Service is committed to bringing the right charges to court when - and only when - it is proper to do so.
"We have notified the legal representatives of the defendants that the proceedings will be discontinued. This decision has been taken on public interest grounds alone. There was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction when the Metropolitan Police decided to charge the defendants and that remains the case."
Bindmans, the law firm which represented the three men, said that it was pleased that the case had been discontinued.
In a statement they said the men had taken the food to eat.
"They planned to plead not guilty, arguing that they were not acting dishonestly - a defence we felt confident the court would agree with at this time of austerity, food banks, food waste and profligacy by supermarkets," the statement said.
"It is only a shame that the Crown Prosecution Service and Iceland's decision came so late - a matter of days before the trial and clearly in the light of media exposure.
"It is a U-turn by both, given that, only a few weeks earlier the CPS had said in response to Bindmans' Mike Schwarz request that they review and drop the case that there was a 'significant' public interest in prosecuting this case."