The case against four men accused over the shooting of black equal rights campaigner Sasha Johnson has collapsed.
Ms Johnson, a mother-of-two, was shot in the head at close range during a silent disco in the garden of a house on Consort Road in Peckham, south London.
She suffered “catastrophic” and permanent injuries and remains in hospital following the attack just before 3am on Sunday May 23 last year.
Ms Johnson, 28, is a founding member of the Taking The Initiative Party and had been a prominent figure in the Black Lives Matter movement last summer.
Four young men had denied conspiracy to murder person or persons unknown and having a gun and ammunition with intent to endanger life.
Their trial had been fixed for March 7 but at an Old Bailey hearing on Tuesday prosecutor Mark Heywood QC offered no evidence and not guilty verdicts were formally recorded.
The defendants – Prince Dixon, 25, of Gravesend, Kent, Troy Reid, 20 of Southwark, Cameron Deriggs, 19, of Lewisham, and Devonte Brown, 19, of Southwark – reacted with smiles as they appeared by video link from Belmarsh top-security prison.
During the hearing before Mr Justice Hilliard, Mr Heywood outlined the circumstantial case against the defendants, saying the decision to drop the case had followed a careful review involving the highest level at the Crown Prosecution Service.
He said he was unable to give full reasons for the decision but had provided details to the court as to why the CPS had no option.
Outlining the case, he said it concerned a “deliberate shooting” at partygoers at the rear of the address in Peckham.
Four males in balaclavas had approached the house and discharged a weapon at guests, with one round striking Ms Johnson in the head at “very close range”.
He said the Crown had alleged the four males were the defendants, who were known to each other.
CCTV analysis, phone cell site and call data showed they planned and conducted surveillance before carrying out the attack with “murderous intent” on one or more partygoers, the court heard.
Mr Heywood said the wider background was a “falling out” and “hostility” between Deriggs and Brown and the two youngest occupants of the house, who were aged 18.
There had been previous incidents and a panic alarm had been installed at the family home just days before, the court heard.
Access to the party was restricted by security at a side gate and one of the attackers was carrying a handgun, probably a Glock loaded with 9mm bullets, the court heard.
Mr Heywood said: “During the confrontation a single shot was discharged from the weapon after a re-load.
“That discharged round struck Sasha Johnson, then aged 27, at very close range.
“Ms Johnson was present as a close friend of the family living there. She was then in a relationship with the oldest son.”
She suffered a penetrating wound to the side of the head and remains in hospital with “catastrophic permanent damage” as a result, Mr Heywood said.
He said the case against the defendants for an alleged conspiracy was based on “circumstantial evidence” and there was no direct evidence identifying any of them.
The core evidence came from contact with each other, phone data and their movements, the court heard.
The prosecutor made clear that there was nothing to suggest Ms Johnson was targeted because of her anti-racism campaigning and involving in the BLM movement.
Each of the defendants had denied being part of the alleged conspiracy or present on the night of the shooting.
Mr Heywood said the Crown was “duty bound” to consider the test within the prosecutors’ code and be satisfied there is sufficient evidence to bring charges with a “realistic prospect of conviction”, and that the case was in the public interest.
He said: “It has become absolutely clear to the prosecution that it is no longer possible to say the full test required by the prosecution code remains satisfied as it must be if this is to proceed to trial.
“For very good reasons it is not possible to set out in full in open court the reasons it is so but it should be understood the relevant considerations have been given the most anxious and careful scrutiny.
“That scrutiny has been reviewed at the highest level within the CPS.”
Mr Heywood said that, because of the importance of the decision, the court had been provided with information in private for it to better understand the background.
Offering no evidence, he added: “The prosecution regrets this step is necessary at this advanced stage. There, in reality, is no other alternative available.”
Mr Justice Hilliard said he believed the Director of Public Prosecutions had knowledge of the case and was informed.
The defendants, wearing black tracksuits, hugged each other and celebrated the verdict.
No members of Ms Johnson’s family were at court for the hearing.
On Monday, the judge revealed that a “notification hearing” was ongoing in secret, saying it was in the defendants’ best interests to put off a public hearing.
It is understood such hearings are very rare and are concerned with ensuring the fairness of proceedings.