CRIMINAL proceedings have been dropped against three men accused of robbing a pensioner of his life savings.

Following an application to Durham Crown Court, the Crown Prosecution Service discontinued the cases against Christopher Barnett, Jason Hackett and Brian Philip Stevenson.

They were arrested at different stages in the investigation into an attack at the home of a 77-year-old man in the village of Coronation, near Bishop Auckland, on the evening of Saturday January 21, this year.

He was alone when he was accosted by three intruders as he went out to fetch some coal from his back yard.

The robbers grabbed his shovel and hit him over his head, before he was taken back into the house and pinned to the floor, while two of the men searched through his belongings.

They fled the house with the man’s life savings.

The pensioner was taken to Darlington Memorial Hospital where he was treated for his injuries and later released.

Speaking at the time, amid an appeal for information, Detective Inspector Peter Lonsdale, of Durham Police, described it as “an abhorrent attack”.

“This was an attack on a pensioner who had merely popped outside to fetch some coal to stoke up his fire.

“It must have been extremely terrifying for the victim who was put through a horrendous ordeal.

“He is obviously very shaken by the incident, but thankfully does not appear to have suffered any serious injuries.

“The suspects escaped with the gentleman’s life savings, which was a substantial amount of cash.

“This would appear to have been a targeted raid.”

Mr Barnett, now 27, of Station Road West, Trimdon Station, and 23-year-old Mr Hackett, of Newham Road, Stockton, were arrested and appeared before magistrates within days of the incident.

Their now 28-year-old co-accused was later arrested and all three, accused of robbery, have appeared in pre-trial hearings at the crown court, via video link to Holme House Prison, Stockton.

A trial date was provisionally set to start on July 3, but the case came back into court listed as “an application to dismiss” hearing.

Barristers Jane Waugh, for Mr Barnett, Alexander Bousfield, for Mr Hackett, and Christine Egerton, for Stevenson, made the application, which was not opposed by prosecution counsel Martin Towers.

Recorder Euan Duff, therefore, discharged the charges and the defendants from answering for the offence.

Stevenson, of Westfield Road, Bishop Auckland, remains in custody to be sentenced at the court, next month, for burglary, theft of a motor vehicle, and other associated motoring offences.