A BUSINESSMAN from Kirkby Stephen has been cleared of theft in a case that a judge suggested should never have been taken to court.

Shaun Earl Chapman, 38, managing director of Oil Solutions Ltd, was accused of stealing £6-worth of used cooking oil from a Lake District hotel, after another company turned up to collect it and found it wasn’t there.

He admitted taking it but insisted that a sous chef at the hotel – the Rampsbeck in Watermillock, on Ullswater - had previously given him permission to do so.

Mr Chapman, of Summerville, Winton, near Kirkby Stephen, pleaded not guilty to theft and was due to go on trial at Carlisle Crown Court on Wednesday (Feb 6).

But the prosecution dropped the case and offered no evidence after just minutes before the jury was due to be sworn in Judge Barbara Forrester questioned why the Crown Prosecution Service had decided to spend so much public money pursuing it, especially when Mr Chapman seemed to have such a plausible explanation.

“I have to say I am concerned about this case, and the cost to the country of pursuing a case involving something of so little value,” the judge said.

“Are we really going to spend thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on the theft of £6-worth of used cooking oil?”

After discussing the case further with the Crown Prosecution Service prosecuting counsel Nick Kennedy told the court that, in the light of the judge’s comments and the facts that had now emerged, the prosecution had decided not to offer any evidence.

Mr Chapman, was formally found not guilty.

During the hearing his barrister Greg Hoare said the case stemmed from a dispute between Mr Chapman’s company and Eden Valley Oil, of Sowerby Lodge, Brough Sowerby, for whom he worked for nearly 20 years until four years ago when he left on “not particularly friendly or cordial terms” and set up his own business.

With a staff of ten and a fleet of seven vehicles the company now distributes more than 20 tonnes of new vegetable oil per week and at the same time collects over 30 tonnes of waste cooking oil throughout northern England and southern Scotland.

Mr Hoare told the judge: “There is little or no public interest in this matter. The criminal courts are being used to litigate a trade dispute between two companies.”

After the hearing Mr Chapman said: “It has been an incredibly stressful few months – and all for £6.”

He said he did not think the allegation would harm his business, because his customers knew him and trusted him and would continue to do so.