The phantom tyre slasher of Carlton Miniott, and a village's fury at a 'bungled' prosecution

'It was embarrassing. All they had to do was get him charged and put before a court. They couldn’t even do that properly.  They just made a complete mess of it.'

Adam Lusher
Saturday 11 August 2018 13:19
The tyre slasher was caught on camera taking a knife to a car in the village of Carlton Miniott
The tyre slasher was caught on camera taking a knife to a car in the village of Carlton Miniott

For months, the phantom tyre slasher of Carlton Miniott struck fear into the heart of a Yorkshire village.

He worked at night, slashing the tyres and scratching the bodywork of cars parked on the kerb.

He was blamed for endangering lives: at one point two young children were driven 30 miles by their mother, who had just passed her driving test, before she realised two of her tyres had been slashed.

So great was the anxiety and paranoia inspired by the phantom tyre slasher that by January everyone in the village near Thirsk, North Yorkshire, seemed to be considered a suspect.

Then the villagers turned detective.

In February electrician Chris Moores, 33, hid three tiny CCTV cameras in his garden shrubbery – and two weeks later the footage appeared to show a balding man in an overcoat walking his dog, and pausing to stab at the tyres of a grey Alfa Romeo.

The locals thought they knew who the man was: 54-year-old grandfather Bryn Richards, who lived in the neighbouring village of Sandhutton and regularly visited his daughter, a resident of Carlton Miniott.

Convinced they had caught their man red-handed, the villagers handed over the CCTV footage to the police.

They thought the police and Crown Prosecution Service would have no trouble getting a conviction for such an apparently open and shut case.

They were wrong.

The prosecution of alleged tyre slasher Mr Richards has now collapsed in ignominy with the presiding magistrate accusing the police of “inexcusable” failure and declaring: “The bench has to make it clear that we are appalled at the way this case has been handled by the CPS and the police."

At Harrogate Magistrates Court the CCTV footage was ruled inadmissible after it emerged that prosecutors had failed to serve it to the defence until just minutes before the case was supposed to open.

It was also said that a police constable had signed off a summary of all the evidence to be submitted to the court as an accurate record when in fact certain items had been missing from the list.

“For the police to submit a case summary that has been signed off and for that to be incomplete,” said presiding magistrate Marion Simon, “There is no excuse for that.”

She agreed to the defence’s application for the case to be thrown out.

Mr Richards, who had always said he had been the victim of mistaken identity, walked free from court an innocent man, with the criminal damage charge against him dropped.

His lawyers insisted: “The errors in the case highlight the absolutely essential role of defence solicitors in protecting people’s rights”.

But the villagers of Carlton Miniott were furious. Confronting police officers outside court, grandfather Kevin McCarthy, 60, told them: “It’s been a balls-up from you guys from start to finish.”

Mr Moores, the man who had spent £250 on the cameras hidden in the shrubbery, told The Sun the police had seemed uninterested in the case throughout their ‘investigation’.

“We had to spoon-feed them the evidence and tell them what to do with it,” he said. “Witnesses were lining up to give evidence but we were told they weren’t needed and information wasn’t followed up.

“It was embarrassing. All they had to do was get him charged and put before a court. They couldn’t even do that properly. The police showed no interest whatsoever. They just made a complete mess of it.”

A North Yorkshire Police spokesman said: “We’re sorry we let the villagers down. We recognise we should have done better.

“We will review the quality of the investigation to establish what happened and ensure lessons are learned.”

A CPS spokesman said: “We note the comments of the magistrate and will review our handling of the case.”

Mr Richards left court without commenting to reporters. In police interviews he had said he was not the man on the CCTV footage, despite there being a resemblance.

He was initially charged with eight counts of criminal damage but seven of these were dropped before the CPS tried – and failed - to proceed with the single incident that had been caught on camera.

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