Prosecutors drop case against men caught taking food from Iceland bins

Reposted from The Guardian


Paul May outside Iceland

Paul May, one of three men caught taking cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms and Mr Kipling cakes from bins outside Iceland. Photograph: Martin Godwin

The Crown Prosecution Service has decided to drop its case againstthree men caught taking food from bins outside an Iceland store.

Although the CPS had previously said there was “significant public interest” in prosecuting the three men caught last year taking tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese and Mr Kipling cakes from the dustbins behind a branch of Iceland, they reversed their decision in the wake of huge public outcry about the case.

Baljit Ubhey, the chief crown prosecutor for CPS London, 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.”

The chief executive of Iceland had contacted the CPS earlier on Wednesday to request that the case be dropped, stating that the company did not seek their prosecution.

Malcolm Walker said his initial reaction to news of the prosecution in the Guardian had been “one of total bemusement”. “Our store had not called the police, let alone asked for those concerned to be prosecuted. Waste food in our bins that cannot be sold is clearly of minimal value to us,” he writes, in a piece for the Guardian. “We acted as soon as we could to ask the police and CPS to drop the case.”

His company took rapid steps to distance itself from the prosecution, as the news triggered widespread criticism. The case has prompted new focus on the phenomenon of “skipping” – taking discarded supermarket waste to cook and eat – and reopened the debate over how much supermarket food is still discarded. Several online petitions were launched, calling on the CPS to reconsider its decision to prosecute.

Paul May, Jason Chan and William James, all residents of a squat in north London, were arrested on 25 October, just before midnight, after a member of the public called the police to report three men scaling a wall at the back of Iceland in Kentish Town. Police arrested the men as they left the area with a holdall and trolley containing food. The total value of the items taken allegedly amounted to £33.

One of the defendants, May, a freelance web designer, argued that he was taking the food because he needed it to eat and did not consider he had done anything illegal or dishonest in removing food destined for landfill from a skip.

Explaining the decision to drop the case on Wednesday afternoon, Ubhey of the CPS said: “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. 

“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.”

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