Three men who were caught taking food out of a Iceland’s litter bin have had charges dropped against them following a public outcry.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it would drop its case despite having previously said there was “significant public interest” in prosecuting the men. They were caught last year taking tomatoes, mushrooms, cheese and Mr Kipling cakes from the dustbins behind a branch of the high-street retailer.

Many supermarkets in the UK routinely throw away perfectly edible food, which has passed its sell-by date.

Retailers waste food in this way in order to avoid possible lawsuits from people over food poisoning, et cetera.

As a result, tonnes of food ends up being taken to landfill and wasted every year.

But when three men were caught taking the food which had been discarded by Iceland, legal action was taken against them.

Initially arrested for burglary, the three men were charged under an obscure section of the 1824 Vagrancy Act, a 190 year old law that has been exhumed to prosecute these men.

In an attempt to distance itself from a growing PR storm, Malcolm Walker, the chief executive of Iceland,contacted the CPS to request that the case be dropped, stating that the company had not sought a prosecution.

However, after a flurry of online petitions, media exposure and the request from Iceland, the CPS have finally backed down.

The three men had been residents of a squat in north London and said that they had taken the food to eat. They explained that they did not consider that they had done anything illegal or dishonest in removing food destined for landfill from a skip.

The total value of the items taken from the bins allegedly amounted to £33. This is inspite of the fact that the food had been thrown away and considered unsuitable for sale.

Paul May, 35, a freelance web designer, said: “Did we have dishonest intent when we jumped into the yard at Iceland to retrieve what was in the bins? No, we didn’t. A dishonest action would be wandering into a store and filling your pockets with what is on the shelves. We didn’t do that.

“It doesn’t feel like we are doing something criminal. We are taking food that they have thrown away so it can be eaten by people who appreciate it. I think it is more morally questionable that they are throwing away that much usable food than that people are diving in and recovering it. In some ways I am proud of what we do.”

Walker, the CEO of Iceland said he was “bemused” over the case.

In a statement published by the Guardian, he added: “Our store had not called the police, let alone asked for those concerned to be prosecuted. Waste food in our bins that cannot be sold is clearly of minimal value to us. We acted as soon as we could to ask the police and CPS to drop the case.”

The case has helped to spark the debate over the amount that supermarkets throw away.

In the same interview, May added: “More and more people are using food banks than ever before but supermarkets are throwing away huge amounts of food, which will end up in landfill.

“If supermarkets were giving as much as they could away, then their bins would be empty, or full of cardboard boxes and broken yoghurt pots – but they’re not. You’d be amazed at what you find.”

May told the Guardian that the residents of the squat have a kitty where people contribute to basic necessities such as teabags and milk, but the bulk of what residents eat comes from skips.

He added that he squats because he is unable to afford the sky-high rental prices in London. Otherwise, he would be forced to move out of the city and unable to see his six year old son.

Removing food from skips allows him to eat more healthily than he would if he was buying food on a low income, he claims, and added: “If I relied on the little I have every day, I would eat very badly.”

On Wednesday, the British Retail Consortium confirmed that all of the major grocery retailers had committed to publishing data on food waste created at the retail stage. The industry has been criticised in the past over the levels of food wasted solely for aesthetic reasons.

Meanwhile in the home, a report published in November last year by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP)  found that UK households were still wasting 4.2m tonnes of food every year, despite the amount of avoidable food waste falling 21 per cent since 2007.


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