YORK'S top judge has called for a "full written explanation" as to why the driver of a jewellery thief was not prosecuted.

The Honorary Recorder of York, Judge Paul Batty QC, heard that a member of the public saw Michael James Hannah, 40, leap with valuable stolen watches into a van in central York and ensured that its registration number was passed to police.

Officers stopped the van shortly afterwards on the A63 at Monk Fryston. Hannah was in the front passenger seat with the watches and another man was driving the van. Hannah is now serving four years in jail, but the driver was released without charge.

North Yorkshire Police has defended the decision not to charge and the CPS has said the charging decision was a matter for the police.

On seeing Hannah alone in the dock at York Crown Court, Judge Batty said: “It seems to be a shocking state of affairs. I would like a full written explanation as to why the van driver was not prosecuted. It seems to me on the face of it a surprising decision to say the least.”

Hannah was sentenced at the same time for other similar thefts in other towns and cities across Northern England. He is from Liverpool.

The judge said: “I think there was someone with him every time. You don’t go into a town that is not your local patch and steal property of this value unless you have got back up.”

A North Yorkshire Police spokesman said: "The driver of the van, a 42 year old man, was interviewed by police on October 31, 2017. The police decision of no further action was made based on insufficient evidence."

A CPS spokesman said: “The roles of the police and CPS in relation to charging is provided for in the Director of Public Prosecution's guidance on charging.

"The police are required to consider the merits of each and every case before either charge or referral to the CPS.

"It is only cases that the police believe have a realistic prospect of a conviction that should be considered by the CPS and not those that the police believe fail this test.”