A former Mayor facing allegations of failing to disclose financial interests has welcomed a decision to drop the charges but has demanded a public inquiry into the handling of the case.

Andy Preston has branded the probe as a ‘politically motivated’ witch-hunt and has called into question the judgement of Cleveland Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to proceed with the investigation.

The ex-Middlesbrough Mayor believes the allegations were made to derail his ambition to be re-elected as an independent candidate in this year’s election.

He was charged with failing to disclose financial interests to the council while he was serving as Middlesbrough’s elected Mayor and was due to appear at Teesside Magistrates Court on Monday, August 21. If found guilty, he could hace faced an unlimited fine.

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“I’m really angry because it shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “There was a claim that I had broken the rules regarding financial affairs – not only did the police and CPS fail to take into account there had already been and investigation and expert lawyers found there was no case to answer but I believe they were put under political pressure.

“It is an absolute scandal that the police inexplicably progressed the matter to the CPS, and that they then decided it should go to court and set a date. That was leaked to the media, leading to damaging front page news and extensive social media commentary, causing great stress to me and my family.

“I want answers – not just for myself but because this case raises serious questions about the integrity of the criminal justice system, and it could happen to anyone. Lessons have to be learned because what has been allowed to happen is just plain wrong.”

Mr Preston was in office from May 2019 to May 2023. Despite his historic support of the Labour Party, he stood as an independent candidate, beating Labour’s Mick Thompson by 17,418 votes to 6,693.

The Northern Echo: Ex-Middlesbrough Mayor Andy PrestonEx-Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston

In the mayoral election held in 2023, Mr Preston lost to Chris Cooke, the Labour candidate, by a margin of 760 votes.

The ex-mayor believes the complaint was made months ago in an attempt to derail his political campaign and wants an investigation into the handling of the probe.

“It has really damaged my reputation,” he said. “A small group of people have been spreading malicious rumours and gossip about me for the last four years.

“This malicious complaint should have been immediately dismissed as dodgy. Instead, thousands of pounds of public money have been wasted and valuable time used up by police who surely have more important things to do.

“The nasty character who instigated this will be delighted because they’ve achieved their goal of harming me and my family, and I’m furious that the police and the CPS made that possible.

“Everyone who reads this should be concerned – not for me but for them. This can happen to anyone, and we need checks in place to make sure that manipulation of the police and the CPS doesn’t happen again.”

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A CPS spokesperson confirmed that the charges had been dropped following a review of the evidence.

They said: “In all criminal cases it is the duty of prosecutors to continuously review all available evidence. At each stage, any case must be supported by sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, and it must also be in the public interest to proceed with a prosecution.

“After the charges had been brought in this case, the Crown Prosecution Service received additional relevant information from those representing Mr Preston. We conducted a further review of the case with the inclusion of this material and found insufficient evidence to support any criminal charges. We then took the appropriate decision to discontinue the case against Mr Preston.”

A Cleveland Police spokesperson said: “Cleveland Police has a legal duty to investigate any case brought to the attention of the force.

“Where there are lines of enquiry, a thorough investigation is undertaken and all relevant evidence submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

“We are satisfied that in this case we fulfilled our duty by conducting a comprehensive investigation, in line with the relevant legislation, and presenting the case to the CPS.

“Any subsequent decision around the case being discontinued is a matter for the CPS”.