A MECHANIC jailed for four years after fingerprints were said to have linked him to a £30,000 robbery in Herefordshire has been freed after top judges ruled that there was not enough evidence to convict him.

Neil Bateman, a 60-year-old organiser of classic car shows, was ambushed and overpowered by three masked men outside his home in Bodenham in April, 2004.

They snatched the takings from an event Mr Bateman had organised in Donnington, Derbyshire, that weekend.

Most of the money was in Mr Bateman's camper van, another £1,000 was in a pouch the robbers ripped from around his waist.

Detectives found the fingerprints of Sirfraze Ahmed, now 32, on a black plastic bag left at the scene, used as a makeshift hood.

Mr Ahmed, of Pershore Road, Cotteridge, Birmingham, was found guilty of robbery and jailed for four years at Worcester Crown Court on February 2 last year.

Two other men, Khalid Khan, 30, and his 27-year-old brother Mohammed, both of Nechells, Birmingham, had pleaded guilty to robbery before the trial began.

Lord Justice Pill, sitting with Mr Justice Lloyd Jones and Mrs Justice Dobbs last week quashed Mr Ahmed's conviction after ruling that the jury had been incorrectly directed by the judge and that there was insufficient evidence to uphold the conviction.

The court heard that Mr Ahmed had said in evidence at his trial that he had helped Khalid Khan fix cars in a shed at the home shared by the brothers.

His fingerprints must have got on the bag when he touched it while it was on a car seat to stop oil stains, he had told the jury. He maintained he was at a birthday party at his mother's house in Birmingham at the time the robbery was carried out.

Quashing the conviction, Lord Justice Pill said: "The judge gave an appropriate direction at the beginning of the summing up.

"However he did not return, as he should have done, to remind the jury and to spell out the evidence precisely. Our conclusion is that this verdict was unsafe, being based on insufficient evidence to merit a conviction.

"The jury could not properly be sure that the fingerprints found on such a common item as a plastic bag was sufficient evidence on which to conclude that this appellant was involved in the robbery.

"There is the additional danger that the jury was over-influenced by the fact that two associates of this appellant had pleaded guilty to the robbery.

"For these reasons, we have come to the conclusion that this conviction was unsafe and must be quashed," the judge concluded.

There was no application for a retrial and Mr Ahmed was freed following the hearing.