By David Shrimpton
A man accused of conning restaurants and cafés out of tens of thousands of pounds has walked free from prison after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to press ahead with the case against him.
Alistair Leslie Woods was charged in July with seven counts of deception, which he denied. He should have appeared at Waltham Forest Magistrates Court on Monday.
But the CPS dropped the charges "due to insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction".
On leaving Brixton Prison, where he was on remand, Woods immediately cleared his bank account and bought a one-way ticket to South Africa. However, trading standards officers have seized £80,000-worth of cheques.
Woods, of Leytonstone, east London, was arrested after thousands of restaurants received letters telling them they had been assessed and chosen for inclusion in a Good Restaurant Guide. Although entries were free, they were asked to pay £19 for a certificate of recommendation.
Cafés received near-identical letters earlier in the year saying they had been chosen for a Good Café Guide.
Trading standards officers at Waltham Forest council, who spent nine months on the case, are furious at the decision not to proceed.
Woods is understood to have been involved with several similar "guides". The addresses of the targeted premises were simply taken from a Thomson Directories computer disk, said trading standards officers.
They have identified more than £250,000 passing through Woods's bank account in the past year. In addition, several thousand cheques for £19 were seized as evidence.
It is understood that the CPS felt they could not prove that the guides would never be published. But according to Waltham Forest, none of the previous guides was ever published. Also the amount of money Woods was drawing from the account, usually £5,000 a week, and regular transfers to banks in South Africa, made trading standards doubt the guides would appear.