A judge has condemned the waste of £30,000 of taxpayers' money in a failed attempt to prosecute two women who were accused of stealing £1.84-worth of chicken.

Verity Bredbury, aged 28, and Cassandra O'Connell, aged 25, were accused of shoplifting a pack of chicken thighs from Morrisons super-market, in Bredbury, Greater Manchester, where they worked at the time.

The pair, who have always denied the meat they were seen eating in their work canteen was stolen, appeared in court numerous times during a ten-month period.

After they elected to be tried by jury, their first trial was abandoned after one day and the second lasted three days thanks to two days of legal arguments.

Judge Mushtaq Khokhar said it costs £5,000 to £8,000 a day for a Crown Court trial before a judge. The process culminated at Manchester's Minshull Street Crown Court yesterday after Mr Khokhar instructed the jury to find the women not guilty.

Yesterday, the Crown Prosecution Service hit back at the criticism from the judge, saying the defence was responsible for hiking the cost of the case by pushing it up to Crown.

A spokeswoman said: "If we believe there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a case, we will not drop that case purely because the defence requests for it to go to Crown Court - otherwise the court system could clearly be open to abuse.

"We appreciate that the value of the items involved was relatively small - but this is true of most cases of theft from an employer, and indeed of ordinary shoplifting cases.

"This alone would not be a reason for us to abandon the case."

She added that a CPS lawyer and an independent barrister reviewed the case throughout the legal process and always believed there was enough evidence to prosecute the women.

She said the defendants could have argued there was no case to answer at an earlier stage.