A Brighton man charged with fraud was cleared after the police and prosecution presented evidence in which key details were redacted.
Some of the redactions – or blanking out – involved documents but a recording was also redacted even though details of another case, being discussed in the background, could be heard.
District Judge Tessa Szagun asked why she had been presented with the censored documents and recordings but the prosecution was unable to give an explanation.
As a result she was “unable to be sure” that 32-year-old Christopher Barron, sometimes known as Christopher Dooley, of Preston Road, Brighton, had committed fraud as alleged in the charge.
Roger Booth, prosecuting, said that Barron had phoned the Department for Work and Pensions, pretending to be Marco Borgatti, who lived in the same block of flats.
Mr Booth said that Barron persuaded the DWP to pay benefits totalling almost £600 into his bank account rather than Mr Borgatti’s.
But Sussex Police and the Crown Prosecution Service approach to data protection undermined the case which was heard at Brighton Magistrates’ Court today (Wednesday 21 October).
The district judge said: “Why are they redacting evidence that they are producing to a court, trying to prove a case?”
Steve Wedd, defending, said: “In the redacted recording they produced, in the background you can hear the details of another case.”
Among the details to have been redacted were addresses, phone numbers and bank details – all central to the case.
Mr Booth said that as a result he was left with “circumstantial evidence giving rise to inferences”.
Mr Wedd said: “It’s annoying and interesting at the same time that all the critical details have been redacted.
“But can the court be sure that, because the money was paid into Mr Barron’s account, it was Mr Barron who made the call?
“It could have been anybody. The court cannot be sure. You should redact the guilty verdict.”
The district judge said: “Mr Borgatti was due to be paid. This money was never paid to his account. It was paid into Mr Barron’s account.
“I have a telephone call (to the DWP) from someone purporting to be Mr Borgatti, giving his details which passed security, albeit I didn’t have those details.
“And the money was paid into Mr Barron’s account. But I don’t have any links between the caller, the caller’ number and Mr Barron himself.
“Although he made no comment in interview after his arrest, I don’t have any details of the questions that he was asked.”
She could not be sure that Barron was even asked about the fraud.
The district judge added: “I cannot say that I am sure that the call was made by Mr Barron and that he was aware that this money was indeed in his account.
“Without that, I cannot find Mr Barron guilty of this offence.”
She dismissed the case.
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