A BRITISH Army major walked free from the District Court yesterday after a judge said partisan feelings of Chinese villagers may have led to his prosecution on charges of careless driving and plotting to cheat justice. Judge Chua acquitted Major Philip Mould, 40, second in command of the Queen's Own Gurkhas Transport Regiment in Hong Kong, on both charges. She also cleared a Chinese soldier, from the same regiment, of conspiring with the major to give false information to the police. Had they been convicted, the defendants could have faced up to seven years in jail. The judge ordered that the legal costs of both defendants be paid out of public funds. The prosecution arose out of a road accident in which an army car, allegedly driven on the wrong side of Lam Kam Road in the New Territories, collided with a goods van coming in the opposite direction on December 16 last year. The two occupants of the van and two other witnesses said Major Mould was the driver of the car and claimed he fled the scene, leaving a passing Chinese soldier, Lam Choi-sing, 29, to take the blame. Both defendants insisted it was Soldier Lam who was driving. This was backed up by army documentation relating to the vehicle. Judge Chua said: 'The villagers' partisan feelings, particularly at this time, are very strong. They see the major leaving the Chinese man there and they feel he is being made the scapegoat.' The impression that Major Mould was driving was enforced when Soldier Lam began asking the villagers how the accident occurred. They thought that if he had been the driver he would not need to ask. But his inquiries were simply being carried out in accordance with army procedure, the court heard. The judge suggested the major, having served in Northern Ireland and the Gulf, should have been aware of partisan feelings of race or religion and was perhaps unwise to leave the scene of the accident. But defence barrister Joe Kenny said the major had no idea that witnesses thought he was the vehicle's driver. He had left the scene because he was busy and anxious to carry out his army duties. Judge Chua said the Crown had not proved its case. She disregarded the evidence of two prosecution witnesses who had previous convictions. She said she took into account the major's good character and the fact that he was forbidden by the army from driving any vehicle because of his high rank. He does not even hold a Hong Kong driving licence. The judge added: 'In the particular circumstances of this case I find myself wondering whether it is likely that Major Mould, a senior-ranking officer of an honourable regiment, would risk serious consequences to his career by flouting the express order and the laws of Hong Kong.' Outside court, Major Mould, who had been in the Army for 18 years and has been decorated for his service, said: 'I am obviously relieved that this whole nightmare is now over.' The officer said his lawyers were considering making 'strong representations' to find out why the case came to court at all. He said he and his co-defendant had both suffered a great deal of stress. Asked for his reaction to the judge's comments about partisan feelings, the officer said: 'I have commanded a squadron in the New Territories. I have experience, as a gweilo, of an occasional partisan attitude. But you cannot generalise about that. I am pleased to have many Chinese friends.'