The relieved manager of Leighton Town FC has described his “wrongful” arrest and trial on suspicion of drugs supply as “15 months of hell”.
On Wednesday the CPS dropped a charge of conspiracy to possess Class A drugs (cocaine) with intent to supply against Craig Bicknell – two weeks after a jury found the manager not guilty of an identical offence.
Both decisions have put an end to more than a year of fear and uncertainty for Craig, who has exclusively told the LBO of his anguish.
He said: “It has been a terrible time– I feel like I have aged ten years. I always knew I was innocent of everything but having to say goodbye to my kids in case something happened was such a bad moment. My wife was put through so much as well, she has already said that she never wants to talk about it again.”
Craig, 37, of Wolverton, was originally arrested alongside his brother Paul at his home in August 2013 by officers of the serious organised crime agency, who had been investigating the supply of Class A drugs around Milton Keynes.
After being held in custody and interviewed by officers for two days Craig was bailed, before later being charged with two counts of conspiracy to possess Class A drugs with intent to supply on December 13.
Paul Bicknell was charged with the same offences and the brothers first appeared in court in January.
Ten months later the pair appeared alongside each other in the dock at Aylesbury Crown Court, for what turned out to be a six-day trial.
Paul was cleared of both charges while Craig was found not guilty on one, with a hung jury on the other. The 37-year-old was forced to wait another fortnight before going back to court, where the CPS dropped the case against the Leighton Town manager by offering no evidence on the second charge.
Craig said: “There was never any proper evidence against me, no drugs, money or paraphernalia was ever found at my home or on my person. Associates of mine are now serving prison sentences on this and when they went through phone records I came up.
“It was from there a conspiracy was put together that things were being organised.
“At the time my brother was staying with me and he borrowed my phone a couple of times and when the officers arrived at my home they arrested both of us.
“I was so shocked when we were charged as the conspiracy theory was so complex.
“We were under surveillance for a year before the arrest but they never had any evidence against us.”
The ordeal also had wide-reaching implications for Paul’s wife and two children (aged five and nine), who he was forced to say goodbye to before the end of the trial.
Paul said: “It was in my head every moment and I was treating each of my children’s birthdays as if it could have been the last one in years.
“I spent the last two days before the end of the trial with my wife and children and it hung over me the entire time.
“It is especially tough when you know you have done nothing wrong.
He added: “When I heard ‘not guilty’ I was relieved but that turned to frustration on why I had been put through this. I was always confident but you never know.”
Following the departure of former first team coach Craig Wells, Leighton Town chairman Terry McCafferty moved quickly to appoint Craig Bicknell in June.
The 37-year-old had just left Ampthill Town after a successful season in which he took them to a runners-up finish in the Spartan South Midlands League, winning the League Cup and reaching the quarter final of the FA Vase along the way.
Despite this the appointment was somewhat of a gamble for Leighton Town, who knew that their new manager was waiting on a trial date.
Following his acquittal Mr Bicknell has paid tribute to his chairman, players and fans of the club for their support.
He said: “I stayed in football as I knew I was innocent and I didn’t want it to interrupt my career.
“Terry was brilliant from the start when I looked him in the eye and said I didn’t do it. It paid off for him as I am going nowhere and will stand by him as he stood by me.
“I have so much respect for him. The entire club has been fantastic as it has been really tough to manage with all of this going on.
He added: “From the start I let all the players know the situation and I owed it to them to stay on considering how well they had done.
“I now want to put it all behind me to concentrate on the two most important things in my life, family and football.”