Judge blasts criminal case as ‘crackers’

District Judge John Foster
District Judge John Foster
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A judge has criticised a ‘crackers’ decision to pursue a criminal damage claim over a fence post – valued at just £7.49.

Retired Army captain Timothy Hallam, aged 55, is alleged to have sawn the top off a wooden fence post in a long-running boundary dispute with his neighbour on Thurgoland Bank, Thurgoland, between Sheffield and Barnsley.

District Judge John Foster, who sits at Barnsley Magistrates’ Court, heavily criticised the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision to escalate the matter, branding it ‘the height of nonsense’.

At a pre-trial hearing 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.”

The court heard a boundary dispute between the neighbours was due to be settled at county court.

Mr Hallam, who served in the Army for 18 years, was granted unconditional bail until a trial fixed for next month.

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 said the CPS needed to clarify the issue to assure the public the correct decision had been made to prosecute

A CPS spokesman said it would now reassess the case before proceeding with 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.”