�3k to prepare case - then council drops it

A FATHER and son have criticised a Suffolk council for spending more than �3,300 of taxpayers' money prosecuting them - only to drop the case once it reached court.

Elliot Furniss

A FATHER and son have criticised a Suffolk council for spending more than �3,300 of taxpayers' money prosecuting them - only to drop the case once it reached court.

Joe Naughton and his teenage son Ben, who are keen banger racers, were accused by Mid Suffolk District Council of dumping old car parts in a ditch - a claim they have always denied.

The pair were taken to court in the spring after it conducted an investigation into the fly tipping but when the case was referred to Ipswich Crown Court on April 17 the council dropped the charge, stating there had been “evidential difficulties”.

After the collapse of the case, Mr Naughton made a freedom of information request to the council. He was stunned to see that it had cost �3,358 to prepare the case only for it to be dropped at the last moment.

He said: “They had very little evidence against us in the first place. They traced the parts back to someone else who was the owner of the car but he said it was us.

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“They (council officers) seemed to believe him and tried to piece together a case against me and my son and the evidence they had was frankly laughable.

“We were summonsed to magistrates' court and pleaded not guilty and the case was sent to crown. They (the council) then went ahead and spent no less than 36 hours preparing court papers for crown court and then as soon as we pleaded not guilty their barrister stood up and said 'we have evidential difficulties'. The whole thing was completely and utterly ridiculous.”

Susie Squire, campaign manager for campaign group the Taxpayers' Alliance, said the case amounted to a waste of money.

She said: “If the council didn't have the evidence to see the trial through then they shouldn't have taken it to court.

“There has been a great tendency by councils to fine and prosecute people for a lot of petty offences and they clearly don't have the background evidence and it ends up costing the taxpayer.

“The council would do well to remember we are in a recession and instead of being overly litigious and pursuing cases that won't stand up, they should be investing in frontline services and helping taxpayers to weather the economic storm.”

A spokesman for the council explained that fly tipping was a crime that it took “very seriously” and it was committed to prosecuting anyone suspected of illegally dumping waste in the district.

She said: “The case involving Mr Naughton and his son was no exception. This case was intended to be heard at and dealt with at the magistrates' court.

“Mr Naughton's solicitor advised him that the case should be taken directly to the crown court. This required that we prepare further for this case, meaning that further costs were incurred following the decision by Mr Naughton.

“Before the crown court case, our barrister re-assessed the evidence and made the decision that the case should go no further.

“With all fly-tipping cases, we have a public duty to ensure that the evidence is put before the court who acts as the ultimate inquisitor and decision maker.”