The case against three men who were accused of stealing food from the waste-bins outside an Iceland store has been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
However, the law firm that represented the men has accused the CPS and Iceland of only withdrawing the case after pressure from the media, citing that the trial was due to start in a matter of days.
Paul May, William James and Jason Chan were arrested at around midnight in Kentish Town, north London, on 25 October, after a member of the public called the police to report three men climbing over a wall at the back of the supermarket.
The CPS said that Iceland had been in contact to ask why action was being taken against the allegedly "freegan" men over claims that they had stolen mushrooms, cheese and cakes from the bins.
It was reported by the Guardian that the items allegedly taken by the men who were "skipping" would have cost £33 in total.
A spokesman from the CPS, Baljit Ubhey, said that their case had been reviewed by a senior lawyer and it was decided that a “prosecution was not in the public interest”. The ruling comes after the CPS previously said there was “significant public interest in prosecuting these three individuals".
Mr Ubhey added: “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.”
Originally, the three men were arrested for burglary but they were later charged under an obscure section of the 1824 Vagrancy Act.
Bindmans, the law firm which represented the three men, said that it was pleased that the case had been discontinued and said that the men had intended to plead not guilty.
"[The men argued] 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 firm said in a statement.
"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."
The firm called the decision a "U-turn" given the CPS' earlier response to a request by the firm that the men's case be reviewed and dropped.
The retailer said that the store is next to a police station and that officers had attended “on their own initiative”.
Iceland said in a statement: “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 ‘skipping’ or ‘freegan’ movement has evolved over the past decade. Freegans can generally afford to buy the products that they take, but see retrieving goods, including food and clothes, from waste-bins as a viable alternative to consumerism, and a way to minimise waste.
Additional reporting by PA