Crown Prosecutors reverse decision - drop case against men caught taking food from bins

Tony Gosling tony at
Thu Jan 30 00:54:19 GMT 2014

Prosecutors drop case against men caught taking food from Iceland bins
CPS reverses decision to charge three men after 
outcry, saying it no longer believes prosecution is in public interest

Amelia Gentleman - The Guardian, Wednesday 29 January 2014 22.30 GMT

Paul May, one of three men caught taking cheese, 
tomatoes, mushrooms and Mr Kipling cakes from 
bins outside Iceland. Photograph: Martin Godwin
Three men caught taking discarded food from bins 
outside an Iceland store will not now be 
prosecuted after an explosion of criticism over 
the decision to bring charges against them, 
including from the company's chief executive.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it would drop 
its case despite having previously said there was 
"significant public interest" in prosecuting the 
men. They were caught last year taking tomatoes, 
mushrooms, cheese and Mr Kipling cakes from the 
dustbins behind a branch of the high-street retailer.

Baljit Ubhey, the chief crown prosecutor for the 
CPS in 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 Guardian revealed on Tuesday that Paul May, 
Jason Chan and William James had been charged 
under the 1824 Vagrancy Act, after being 
discovered in "an enclosed area, namely Iceland, 
for an unlawful purpose, namely stealing food".

On Wednesday, Malcolm Walker, the chief executive 
of Iceland, contacted the CPS to request that the 
case be dropped, stating that the company had not sought a prosecution.

The retailer took rapid steps to distance itself 
from the case, attempting to offset a damaging 
public relations storm as news of the prosecution 
triggered widespread criticism. 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 from the bins allegedly amounted to £33.

May, 35, a freelance web designer, said he was 
relieved the case had been dropped. He said it 
was a ridiculous charge, and "crazy" to think 
that prosecution was in the public interest.

He said he had taken the food because he needed 
it to eat, and did not consider that he had done 
anything illegal or dishonest in removing food 
destined for landfill from a skip.

"Did we have dishonest intent when we jumped into 
the yard at Iceland to retrieve what was in the 
bins? No, we didn't," he said. "A dishonest 
action would be wandering into a store and 
filling your pockets with what is on the shelves. We didn't do that."

May said he was not ashamed of recovering binned 
food, to share, cook and eat with his housemates.

"It doesn't feel like we are doing something 
criminal. We are taking food that they have 
thrown away so it can be eaten by people who 
appreciate it. I think it is more morally 
questionable that they are throwing away that 
much usable food than that people are diving in 
and recovering it. In some ways I am proud of what we do."

Walker said his initial reaction to news of the 
prosecution had been "one of total bemusement". 
Writing in the Guardian, he said: "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 added: "We acted as soon as we could to ask 
the police and CPS to drop the case."

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.

But although some supermarkets here are beginning 
to offer their unused stock to food banks, May 
says the quantity still found discarded in bins 
suggests there is much more that could be used constructively.

Explaining the decision to drop the case, Ubhey 
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."

The case was launched as attitudes towards 
excessive supermarket waste begin to harden. In 
the US, entrepreneurs are working on new models for recycling unsold produce.

May, who has regularly taken food from skips, 
argued that he has the right to take food which 
is being thrown away. "More and more people are 
using food banks than ever before but 
supermarkets are throwing away huge amounts of 
food, which will end up in landfill," he said. 
"If supermarkets were giving as much as they 
could away, then their bins would be empty, or 
full of cardboard boxes and broken yoghurt pots – 
but they're not. You'd be amazed at what you find."

He and other residents at the squat regularly 
find large quantities of frozen chicken breasts. 
Last week they had quail. Most of the food May 
collects when he goes skipping has crossed the 
marked sell-by date, but is still edible.

The residents of the squat have a kitty where 
people contribute to basic necessities like 
teabags and milk, but the bulk of what residents 
eat comes from skips, May said.

May says he is squatting because he cannot afford 
to rent in London, and the alternative would be 
to move out of the city, making it hard to see 
his six-year-old son. Removing food from skips 
allows him to eat more healthily than he would if 
he was buying food on a low income, he claims. 
"If I relied on the little I have every day, I would eat very badly."

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