THE Millionaire trial that has been taking centre stage at Southwark Crown Court has provided some light relief over recent weeks but I am at a loss as to why the public should be footing the bill.

I have never been a fan of Big Brother but I seem to remember 'Nasty' Nick Bateman being kicked off the first series for cheating when he used illicit notes and a mobile phone to increase his chances of winning.

Now I don't recall him being charged with "being a cad". And when some would-be popstar was kicked off one of the Pop Idols shows for pretending to be younger than he was, I don't recall him being prosecuted for "impersonating a teenager".

Instead the show bosses realised it was all just a bit of TV fun, made the bounders do a walk of shame and milked the ratings.

Yet when three otherwise respectable members of the community - a teacher, soldier and a nurse - use a bit of gamesmanship to scoop the millionaire jackpot, they are charged with "procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception" and hauled before the beak.

The accused were treated as if they had mugged an old granny and stolen her life savings when, in truth, if ever there were a victimless crime, this had to be it. What they did was wrong - they cheated. But will a footballer now be charged with a criminal offence every time he dives in the box?

If the makers of the show had simply withheld the jackpot, then Army Major Charles Ingram would have had a simple 50/50 to decide: namely, whether to sue the show through the civil courts or accept he had been found out. I'm sure if he phoned a friendly lawyer, he could secure a no win, no fee deal.

Instead the police and Crown Prosecution Service have had to devote valuable resources to this investigation and the public purse has been hit to the tune of up to £2m. This comes at a time when many real crimes, such as garage break-ins and criminal damage, do not lead to prosecutions because of lack of police resources or the cost to the public purse.

I've criticised judges in the past so it's only right that in this case I praise the sound judgement of Judge Jeffrey Rivlin QC, who imposed heavy fines and suspended sentences. Jailing the defendants would have served no purpose other than to deprive children of loving parents and provide another drain on the taxpayer.

Instead of making millionaires out of contestants , the show has lined the pockets of lawyers. Not only that but the show has received massive free publicity and ITV is to use the unseen footage of the coughing caper for a one-off Easter special, raking in another fortune.

Having told the court in evidence that he didn't realise anything untoward was going on, presenter Chris Tarrant was been quick off the mark to lambast the "sheer greed" of the accused when they were convicted.

Hopefully ITV will now have a similar conscience pang and donate all the proceeds from this spin-off to the hard-hit public purse. And hopefully the faceless bureaucrats who authorised this ridiculous prosecution will now face some tough questions of their own.