Failed case cost �1m

Ben KendallA failed two-year investigation into an alleged fraud at a Norfolk private hospital cost taxpayers at least �1m, an investigation has revealed.Ben Kendall

A failed two-year investigation into an alleged fraud at a Norfolk private hospital cost taxpayers at least �1m, an investigation has revealed.

The NHS and Norfolk police inquiry into claims of a �2.5m rip-off by bosses at Cawston Park psychi-atric hospital near Aylsham coll-apsed earlier this year after a judge said there was no evidence of any wrongdoing. Defendants Andrew Breeze and Dominic Wilson were exonerated by Ipswich Crown Court.

An investigation is under way into allegations of major failings during Operation Meridian, for Mr Breeze claims his life was wrecked after a malicious complaint made by a disgruntled former employee.

Now, after requests made under the Freedom of Information Act, it has emerged that the cost to the public purse is set to top �1m - even before the amount of time spent by detectives and lawyers is calculated.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb described the figure as staggering. He added: "When you take into account the time wasted on this investigation, the true cost is likely to be monu-mental. There has to be an enormous question mark over those involved in this investigation and how it was allowed to continue for so long when a judge made it clear the case should never have reached court."

The breakdown of costs includes:

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The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) paid counsel �136,471.59. However, the true figure is higher as the CPS "does not quantify and record the cost of specific trials, as we do not distinguish and bill the time spent by CPS employees on individual cases".

Norfolk police's recorded spending stands at �12,339. This includes expenses, overtime and unspecified costs. It does not include normal staffing costs as "the number of hours spent on this specific investi-gation by all officers concerned is not held".

The Legal Services Commission, which oversees legal aid, has yet to calculate its full payout as it is await-ing invoices. However, the cost of hiring two defence QCs and two supporting barristers along with law firm DLA Piper is expected to exceed �1m.

The police are co-operating with an inquiry supervised by the Indep-endent Police Complaints Comm-ission, and say the force cannot comment at this stage. But they do say that the question of the full cost of the inquiry "may be addressed as a part of that process".

Mr Breeze, of Thorpe St Andrew, said the CPS had failed to respond to letters requesting a similar investi-gation despite a request to Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions. He added: "I never objected to the NHS and police investigating the initial complaint, but it should never have continued as long as it did when there was no evidence of any crime."

Mr Lamb intends to investigate the case further but called for a indep-endent inquiry into the actions of the police, CPS and NHS Counter Fraud Service. He also called for those involved to be open about their total expenditure on the case.

The inquiry began in 2006 when the defendants were arrested in dawn raids.