THERE were celebrations in the public gallery as three men who had been facing trial for kidnap, burglary and blackmail were told they could go free after the case collapsed.

The three were formally acquitted as the court heard key witnesses, crucial to the trial, had vanished and were not co-operating.

James Johnson and John Cash were to be tried on three counts of kidnapping, burglary and having a knife in a public place, while Chance Gill faced an attempt to kidnap charge, and doing acts to pervert the court of justice.

The particulars listed in the indictment were that Johnson, 19, of Evesham Road, Cleeve Prior and Cash, 21, of Cooper Close, Staines-Upon-Thames, between September 17 and September 20, 2020, unlawfully and by force or fraud took or carried away Billy Dean Johnson, Luke Shaw, and Macauley Brunsdon Jones against the three men's will.

The particulars read Johnson and Cash, between the same dates, made an unwarranted demand of £5,000 from Luke Shaw with menaces, and that Johnson and Cash attempted to enter a dwelling house in Cheltenham with intent to steal, and had knives on them in a public place in Honeybourne between September 17 and September 20 last year.

The indictment particulars for Gill, 21 of Tewkesbury Road, Eckington, were for attempted kidnap on December 9 in that he attempted to unlawfully and by force or fraud to carry away Billy Dean Johnson against his will, and between November 3 and December 10 last year, with an intent to pervert the course of public justice, did a series of acts which had a tendency to pervert the course of public justice in that he was involved in the intimidation of witnesses.

Having denied all the counts the three men had expected a seven day jury trial at Worcester Crown Court.

But at the start of proceedings, on Tuesday morning, prosecutor Martin Liddiard explained to Judge Nicholas Cartwright they could not proceed.

The prosecutor explained they were in a similar situation to June when on that occasion the trial did not go ahead as witnesses did not attend.

The prosecutor said: "Billy Dean Johnson and Luke Shaw are due to be here today, they are not.

"What is apparent is those two have vanished, we have no idea where they are."

Mr Liddiard said the two, and a further two witnesses who they had not had contact with, were "imperative" to the case.

"It is obvious now across many months that these witnesses are happy frustrating these proceedings," the prosecutor said.

"It is obvious they don't want to help themselves. In that case there is little the Crown Prosecution Service and police can do.

"This case has cost the taxpayer many, many thousands of pounds.

"There has to come a point where we can no longer put this to trial. I'm authorised to offer no evidence on every count on the indictment."

The judge said: "If you offer no evidence then I'll enter not guilty verdicts."

There were shouts of "yes" from a packed public gallery with many on their feet, as the judge then twice told everyone to sit.

"This is not some sort of public meeting," the judge added, before he discharged the three in the dock.

Johnson had been set to be represented by Simon Hickey, Gill by David Maunder and Cash by Alan Walker during the trial, but none of the barristers spoke during the short hearing.