Villagers furious as ‘phantom tyre slasher caught on CCTV’ walks free from court

Villagers who believed they caught an alleged phantom tyre slasher vandalising cars on CCTV were left furious after the suspect walked free from court.

After two years of waking up to wrecked tyres in the quiet Yorkshire village of Carlton Miniott, residents took matters into their own hands and set up cameras to catch the culprit.

Within days they had caught images of the accused slasher which they handed over to police.

Car owners hoped the CCTV images, which allegedly showed Bryn Richards, 54, vandalising cars, would bring a stop to their car troubles after being shown in ccourt.

But yesterday, the case was thrown out in disarray with a veteran magistrate launching a stinging attack on the police and the CPS for failings that meant the villagers’ efforts had been for nothing.

The hearing revealed a case summary of evidence was signed off without including the CCTV which should have been shown to Mr Richards’ lawyer Keith Allen beforehand.

Electrician Chris Moores, 33, who installed the cameras, said after the hearing: "I’m not even shocked, I have no faith whatsoever in the police and now the case has been thrown out of court.

"How can anyone ever have any faith in seeing justice done when things like this happen.

"I know people whose cars had been damaged and mine got done twice. The police didn’t seem as though they were getting any closer to catching whoever was doing it.

"So I installed a camera and sure enough we got him walking along with his dog, bending down and puncturing a neighbour’s tyre.

"The next day he walked past again in the same coat, same dog, everything the same. We handed it over to the police, they had nothing to do but get him charged and put before a court."

But at Harrogate Magistrates’ Court yesterday, Chris and other locals were left blinking in disbelief as the case was thrown out.

PC Steve Smallman had signed off a case summary of all the evidence to be submitted to the court as an accurate record before it had even been completed.

And the Crown Prosecution Service did not follow directives from the court to admit the CCTV evidence on time. Mr Allen only saw the footage for the first time on the day of the trial.

Presiding magistrate Marion Simon said: "For the police to submit a case summary that has been signed off and for that to be incomplete, there is no excuse for that.

"I have been sitting on the bench since 1994 and I have never ever had this come across me.

"The bench has to make clear that we are appalled at the way this case has been handled by the CPS and the police."

John Sharphouse, the owner of the car damaged on video, said: "I can’t really believe what I have just seen. They couldn’t have had clearer evidence, what do you have to do to see someone punished?

"The video showed clearly what happened and who was responsible, it couldn’t have been clearer.

"People are going to be absolutely furious when they hear about this in the village."

The court had been told that Mr Sharphouse had known Mr Richards for 25 years and recognised him and his wife from the video footage.

With police seemingly unable to catch the slasher, resourceful locals bought and installed surveillance cameras along the hedgerow bordering their homes and waited for the him to strike again.

And on a blustery night in February this year an unlikely figure wandered into view and appeared to have been caught red handed.

For the footage allegedly showed Bryn Richards, a 54-year-old grandfather, pause whilst walking his dog to lean down and puncture the tyre of a parked car as he walked by.

Richards, a mechanic who was well known in the village, faced Harrogate magistrates yesterday where he denied criminal damage.

He claimed that the figure walking along with a woman, a tan dog between them on a lead, was not him and the case hinged whether or not it was a case of mistaken identity.

Mr Richards, of the neighbouring village of Sandhutton, was charged with eight counts of criminal damage on cars but the Crown Prosecution Service withdrew seven charges and proceeded only with the one caught on CCTV.

In that instance an Alpha Romeo owned by Mr Sharphouse was damaged on the night of February 25.

Prosecutor Gareth Henderson-Moore said: "On the CCTV footage you can see this defendant’s hand reach down and make a slashing motion against the tyre.

"This happened at night but the court will also see from CCTV footage taken by the same camera at a different time during daylight which we say shows Mr Richards.

"He is wearing the same coat, carrying the same stick and walking the same dog."

Garage owner Mr Sharphouse told the court: "The tyre of my car was stabbed on the sidewall.

"I drove to the garage to get them to blow it up. I took my son to school but by the time I got it back home the tyre was flat again.

"My neighbour Chris Moores’ car had twice had its tyres damaged so he put a camera up outside his house and mine.

"He looked at the CCTV footage and said he had video of a chap slashing the tyres and he showed me the video.

"It was a picture of my car with the tyre being stabbed. I recognised the person on the video as Bryn. I know the chap, I have known who he was for a lot of years and he regularly walks past my house.

"I must have known him for 25 years, I know him to say hello to, he has been in the motor trade like me for all the time I have known him.

"I recognised him and his wife and the dog, I’d often see them out walking. I contacted the police and Chris did as well."

A spokesperson for North Yorkshire Police said: "We’re sorry we let the villagers down in this case.

"We acknowledge the magistrate’s comments, and we recognise that we should have done better. We will review the quality of the investigation to establish what happened and ensure lessons are learned."

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