The men are alleged to have taken food from the bins of an Iceland store in Kentish townWikiComms

The case against three men accused of stealing food from a supermarket waste bin has been dropped after it was ruled that prosecution would not be in the public interest.

Paul May, Jason Chan, and William James were arrested in October after they allegedly stole £33 worth of waste food from bins outside of an Iceland supermarket in Kentish Town, north London.

The men, who took the food in an act of "skipping" (raiding a skip), were originally arrested for burglary but were charged by the Crown Prosecution Service under an obscure section of the 1824 Vagrancy Act for being in "an enclosed area [namely Iceland] for an unlawful purpose, namely stealing food".

The section under which the men were charged deals with crimes committed by people "deemed to be rogues and vagabonds".

Iceland's CEO Malcolm Walker was one of those who criticised the decision by the CPS to charge the men and had contacted the CPS to ask it to explain its decision.

He added that it was not a member of Iceland staff who has complained to police.

Baljit Ubhey, chief crown prosecutor for CPS London, confirmed that the decision to prosecute was reviewed and charges were dropped. The CPS, Ubhey said, "did not give due weight to the public interest factors tending against prosecution".

"In reconsidering this case, we have had particular regard to the seriousness of the alleged offence and the level of harm done. Both these factors weigh against a prosecution.

"Additionally, further representations received today from Iceland Foods have affected our assessment of the public interest in prosecuting."

The CPS added that there was "sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction" when the Metropolitan Police decided to charge the defendants.

The act of "skipping" – also referred to as "dumpster diving" and a variation of the more politically motivated "freeganism" – describes taking food that has been thrown out by supermarkets, restaurants and hotels and used for personal consumption. It is believed to have started in New York and has since become a worldwide movement.

If the trial went ahead, May said he was going to argue that he took the tomatoes, mushrooms and cheese because he was hungry and did not consider it illegal to take what Iceland was willing to send to the landfill.

An Iceland spokesperson said: "On the issue of food waste more generally, we work very closely with all our suppliers to minimise the amount of waste food Iceland generates. Products are only designated as waste when they have passed their use-by dates and are considered unfit for human consumption."

Iceland added that the Kentish Town store was next to a police station and the officers had arrived "on their own initiative".