Murder trial collapses after police withhold evidence

One of Britain's longest murder trials collapsed yesterday when the judge ruled that the police had deliberately withheld crucial information.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has been asked to investigate the case. Arran Coghlan, an alleged crime boss, and five other men were cleared yesterday of burning to death a drug dealer in Stockport, Greater Manchester, in September 1999.

Mr Justice Penry-Davey said that officers had failed to disclose or act on intelligence about the murder of David Barnshaw, 32, that suggested someone other than Mr Coghlan was the killer.

The judge halted the trial at Preston Crown Court after nearly eight months. The three-year investigation and court case cost up to £10m.

This is the second time Mr Coghlan has been cleared of a murder charge. He was tried and acquitted in 1996 of shooting dead a gang leader called Chris Little, 32, in Stockport.

The wealthy businessman, from Cheshire, was accused of masterminding the attack on Barnshaw. The victim was kidnapped, beaten and then doused in petrol and set alight. Mr Coghlan, who said yesterday he would sue the police, was accused of running a drug gang in Stockport and "building his empire through ruthless violence".

The judge said that Detective Chief Inspector Kenny Caldwell, of Greater Manchester Police, had 13 pages of information pointing to a man other than Mr Coghlan being responsible for the murder. Eight vital pages of the report went missing.

The judge said: "I have reached the conclusion ... that it was Mr Caldwell who removed the documents. I am driven to the conclusion he was not telling the truth."

The judge said Detective Inspector Darren Shenton, a member of the National Crime Squad, had prepared a report that was "deliberately misleading". He said: "Either Det Insp Shenton was not telling the truth ... or he was at least grossly negligent."