THE case against a scrap metal firm has been thrown out of court after a judge ruled it was “lured into breaking the law” by undercover officers.

Now all arrests made in a major police crackdown on metal thefts will have to be reviewed.

Police had arrested 17 people during Operation Rhonda, a crackdown on the illegal sale of stolen railway cable.

But yesterday the trial of three men at Bolton Crown Court was thrown out because the judge ruled police went too far in their pursuit of PG Metals in Darbishire Street.

Now, the Crown Prosecution Service will review upcoming cases to see if the ruling by Judge Timothy Stead will affect them.

Paul Dawson, aged 47, of Hampton Road, Great Lever, was charged with three counts of attempted handling of stolen railway cable and three counts of concealing criminal property.

Gary Ogden, aged 45, of Green Lane, Great Lever, faced one charge of attempted handling and one of concealing criminal property.

Gary Young, aged 44, of Levens Drive, Breightmet, was accused of two charges of attempted handling of stolen property.

All three have now been cleared of all charges and the CPS barrister, Robert Elias, told the court he would be immediately reviewing all upcoming cases linked with the operation, which was run by British Transport Police and Greater Manchester Police.

The court heard how undercover police officers, named Nick and Tom in court, first visited PG metals on September 26, 2012.

They posed as scrap dealers with metal to sell.

Dawson asked to see identification and refused to buy the aluminium metal cable he was offered, which was legitimate, but looked similar to railway cable.

The officers went back to PG metals again on October 9, 2012, and again Dawson demanded to see identification.

He told the officers he was not supposed to buy burnt wire and if he was offered it he should report it to police as the wire could be stolen cabling with its protective plastic sheath burnt off.

Officers called at the Tonge Moor firm again on October 16, 2012 — their third visit — and offered Dawson railway cable.

He told them twice he could not take it and the officers asked how much he would pay for it if it was stripped.

They returned later that day with the cable stripped of its identifying protective sheath and Dawson bought it.

When he was asked if he would take any more he told the undercover officers he would prefer not to have it.

In ruling the evidence inadmissible Judge Stead told the court: “I am quite satisfied everyone involved with the case has done their best to advance their duties in good faith.

“It is simply not acceptable that the state, through its agents, should have its citizens lured into breaking the law and then set out to prosecute them.”

He said there would not have been a legal dispute had Dawson bought the cabling when first offered it.

Judge Stead added: “The reality of what the police did by going time and time again was to seek to wear down Mr Dawson’s resistance to a point where he would then do something that could be characterised as a criminal offence.”

Prosecution barrister Robert Elias did not appeal the judgment.

He told the court: “The good thing about age is it allows you to gain perspective, the proper view is to offer no evidence against these three defendants on all counts, for reasons that are pretty obvious.”

He then informed the judge that he would immediately go to Horwich Police Station, where he said he would be looking to see if upcoming cases of those arrested as part of the operation could be affected in light of the ruling by Judge Stead.

A ruling was made for the three defendants to recover any “reasonably incurred costs” before they were allowed to walk free.

Operation Rhonda involved officers from both forces targeting scrap metal dealers across Greater Manchester who were suspected of criminal activity.

The charges range from attempting to receive stolen goods to helping others in the commission of a criminal offence.