YORK'S top judge has accused the city and county's prosecutors of pressing charges on poor evidence.

The Honorary Recorder of York, Judge Paul Hoffman, was speaking after a jury acquitted 20-year-old Neil Richard Chappell of rape.

The only evidence against him was the word of the alleged victim from York, now 17. The jury took 20 minutes to reach their unanimous verdict.

North Yorkshire prosecutors have defended the decision to run the case.

"This was one of the weakest cases that I have ever had to try," the judge told York Crown Court at the end of the trial. "I do not believe frankly it passes the evidential test. I am of course confining my comments to this case, not seeking to generalise. Looking at this case, it had not guilty written all over it from the word go."

He then added: "I am seeing far too many cases where complainants are made to give evidence. They are set up (prepared for the ordeal of giving evidence) and they are almost surely bound to fail in persuading a jury, and this is one such case, a glaring example.

"I do not believe that common sense went into the decision to prosecute in this case.

"I find I am of the word that it does beggar belief that this case was prosecuted."

A CPS spokesman said: "We take the comments of Judge Hoffman very seriously. This case was reviewed pursuant to the Code of the Crown Prosecutors and the evidential test was met in our view and also the public interest test was met."

The case was continually reviewed, the spokesman said.

Under the CPS code, prosecutors can only bring cases where there is enough evidence to provide a "realistic prospect of conviction". They must stop a case at any stage when they believe there is insufficient evidence.

Mr Chappell, of Byland Avenue, off Huntington Road, York, denied throughout that he had ever had sex with the girl. He spent eight months on bail accused of being a rapist.

Giving evidence, the girl claimed that he had raped her at intervals over a few hours in a friend's sitting room. Asked why she did not try to escape when he was watching television between sex sessions or call out to a woman she knew was in the house, she said she had been scared. The jury heard she did not mention the alleged rape until weeks later, when fearing she was pregnant, she told her boyfriend.

Updated: 10:32 Tuesday, May 20, 2003