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Norwich pet fish killing trial farce

PUBLISHED: 17:00 22 January 2010 | UPDATED: 07:39 02 July 2010

A chocolate goldfish

A chocolate goldfish

David Bale

A trial into the deaths of three goldfish worth £7, which has cost thousands of pounds as well as numerous police and CPS man hours, was today blasted as 'wasteful' after being thrown out of court.

A trial into the deaths of three goldfish worth £7, which has cost thousands of pounds as well as numerous police and CPS man hours, was today blasted as “wasteful” after being thrown out of court.

Chantelle Amies was charged with criminal damage following a Norfolk police investigation into the death of three chocolate goldfish owned by a neighbour.

The 19-year-old, from Alma Terrace, off Aylsham Road, Norwich, was accused of poisoning the fish using bleach following a dispute. She denied the charge and the case went to trial at Norwich Magistrates' Court yesterday.

However, chairman of the bench, Mary-Anne Massey, decided there was no case to be heard after the court was told that a police failure to send evidence away for tests meant there was no way of proving any wrong-doing.

Today, a Norwich magistrate and a national pressure group criticised those involved in bringing the case to court.

The average magistrates' court trial is estimated to cost at least £2,000, but this was the third time the case had been listed in court requiring parties to be present, meaning the overall cost may be higher.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: “Regardless of the type of offence being alleged, it is wasteful and unjust to bring a case all the way to court without sufficient evidence.

“The CPS is meant to filter out cases that are too weak to secure a conviction, so it is bizarre that this case got so far. Given that there are plenty of stronger cases that never get fully pursued, the CPS need to work harder at securing good value.”

A serving Norwich magistrate, who did not wish to be named, added: “It's frustrating when the court system falls down because of basic errors made at the source which mean everyone's time is wasted and taxpayers have to foot the bill.

“It begs the question why on earth it got to court in the first place, if the evidence was not sorted out.”

Prior to the trial collapsing, the court heard how Miss Amies allegedly put bleach in the goldfish bowl, which belonged to a neighbour's four-year-old son, on September 12 last year. The court heard the fish were worth £7 in total.

Susanna Chowdhury, for the prosecution, said Miss Amies' fingerprints had been found on a bottle of bleach in the house and on the front of the fish tank.

But the court was told that although a sample of the water in the fish tank had been taken by police, they had not sent it away for analysis, because it would cost too much money.

Miss Amies' counsel, Philip Farr, was therefore able to question whether there had been any bleach in the fish tank or indeed whether the fish had been killed by bleach.

The prosecution called three witnesses to say they had smelled bleach in the fish tank, but no-one saw what happened, causing the case to fall through due to insufficient evidence.

The court heard from the complainant, who was formerly a next-door neighbour of Miss Amies, that her son, who was four at the time and is now five, had been deeply upset at the deaths of the goldfish.

She said she had returned to her home in Alma Terrace to find the three goldfish dead on the surface of the water, and a strong smell of bleach emanating from the fish tank.

She said she had only bought the bleach a day before and there was no reason why her neighbour's prints would have been on it.

Commenting on the case today, a spokeswoman for the CPS said it would not know how much the trial cost for a few weeks, and would not estimate how much it was.

The spokeswoman added: “We obviously felt in this case that we had enough evidence for a conviction and that it was in the public interest to bring this case to court. However, we respect the decision made by the magistrates in dismissing this case.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said there was no average cost for a magistrates' trial, but court insiders said it could be several thousands pounds.

Norfolk police said they were unable to comment at this stage.

Do you think the case should have been brought before the courts? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk

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