THE boss of a scrap metal recycling company has expressed relief after being cleared of handling stolen BT cable.

Billy Ward, of Ward Brothers (Steel), in Darlington, was due to stand trial at Teesside Crown Court yesterday (Monday, April 7).

Not guilty verdicts were returned on Mr Ward and four  employees - George Adams, James Adams, Paul Bailey and Stephen Smith – after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) offered no evidence to the charges against them, including attempting to handle stolen goods and possessing criminal property.

The company was the subject of an undercover police operation into the suspected trading of stolen BT cables, as a result of a high number of thefts of this type of metal, both in the region and nationally.

Its headquarters in Albert Hill, Darlington, was raided by police in January 2012, with Mr Ward and his colleagues arrested.

All five denied any wrongdoing and Sean Grainger, of Watson Woodhouse Solicitors, which represented Mr Ward, said the men were relieved to have had their names cleared.

He said: “Mr Ward was interviewed on three occasions and denied committing any criminal offences as did the four employees.

He has now been on bail for over two years, has had to pay out substantial legal fees, which under legislation brought in by the current government he cannot now be compensated for and finds out two working days before the trial that the CPS were to offer no evidence against him or his employees.”

Mr Grainger said Ward Brothers had lost hundreds of thousands of pounds in revenue as a result of the investigation.

He also risked losing his scrap metal dealers’ licence, which would result in the closure of the company and the loss of 65 jobs.

Mr Grainger added: “The stress of the last two-and-a-half years has affected Mr Ward’s health and caused constant worry to the Ward family, as the business was and still is under risk of being closed down.

“The investigation will have the taxpayer a significant sum.

“Mr Ward’s defence team has advised from the outset that the prosecution was flawed and we were always confident of an acquittal.”

Entering not guilty verdicts, Judge Peter Armstrong ordered that items seized by the police – including a quantity of scrap metal and a £50,000 float – be returned within 14 days.