A JUDGE has denounced the Crown Prosecution Service as “crackers” after it decided to pursue a criminal damage claim against a retired Army captain over allegations he vandalised a fence post valued at just £7.49.
Timothy Hallam, 55, is alleged to have sawn the top off a wooden fence post in a long-running dispute with his neighbour.
The matter has escalated to court and Captain Hallam, who served his country in Bosnia and Kosovo, is now facing a trial.
However District Judge John Foster, who sits at Barnsley Magistrates’ Court, has heavily criticised the CPS’s decision to escalate the matter, branding it “the height of nonsense”.
He said: “I cannot believe even given the vagaries of the Crown Prosecution Service these days that it wants to proceed with this case against a 55-year-old man of exemplary character.
“It is crackers. The CPS really needs to get some sense of what is important to the public.
“This is a dispute between neighbours. It was a fence post before he cut the top off it and it is still a fence post.
“The neighbour is £7.49 out of pocket. It is the height of nonsense.”
Chantel Lowery-Green, for the prosecution, said it was impossible to prove whose land the fence post was on and it was felt Mr Hallam had to be prosecuted because of a chance of further trouble.
She said the boundary dispute was due to be sorted out at county court.
“A way out of this would have been to offer Capt Hallam the chance to be bound over to keep the peace but I understand he will not accept a binding over because he says he was in his rights to cut the top off the post,” she said.
“We will have to list it for trial.”
Brian Bushell, for Mr Hallam, said he believed he was within his legal rights to cut off the top of the post because it was on his land and he claimed it contravened planning regulations.
Mr Hallam, of Thurgoland Bank, Thurgoland, near Barnsley, served in the Army for 18 years, including tours in the Balkans.
He said afterwards he was having a long-running dispute with a neighbour over rights of access and encroachment.
“This is a matter of principle which I will not give way to,” he said. “If I lose the case it could undermine a seriously expensive civil action.
“Take my employment away as well as leave me with a criminal record but the principle is something I will live with long after all this is over, and I want to be able to live comfortably with my conscience if I have nothing else in the world.”
Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis joined in the row by saying the CPS needed to clarify the issue to assure the public that the correct decision had been made to prosecute.
He said: “Given the current pressures on the public purse and the comments made by the judge it is right that questions are asked about the wisdom of pursuing a case of this nature which has presumably come at significant expense to the taxpayer.”
Mr Hallam was granted unconditional bail until a trial fixed for next month.
A CPS spokesman said following the judge’s comments it would reassess the case before proceeding with the prosecution.
He said: “We are aware of concerns raised by District Judge Foster. This is a matter which was charged by the police and we await a full file from them at which point the matter will be further reviewed.”