Police probe claims of witness intimidation at original trial

Officers from Scotland Yard have launched an inquiry into allegations that prosecution witnesses were intimidated at the trial of Nicholas van Hoogstraten, the property baron cleared of killing a business rival.

Mr van Hoogstraten, 58, walked free from jail last Monday after his 10-year sentence for the manslaughter of Mohammed Raja was overturned. The Court of Appeal ruled that the verdict was unsafe because of a "flawed" direction to the jury by the trial judge.

However, police sources say they are now carrying out an "active investigation" into why several witnesses withdrew their evidence against the millionaire at the trial, which took place in 2002.

It is understood that three people, including a 20-year-old woman, have been released on police bail in connection with the investigation by officers from the Metropolitan police.

As Britain's most notorious slum landlord with a fortune once estimated at £500m, Mr van Hoogstraten, from Uckfield, East Sussex, has built his reputation on treating his tenants with contempt, even describing those who had died in a fire in one of his properties as "low-life, drug dealers, drug takers and queers - scum".

His first comment on being released, after spending a year in jail where, it has emerged, he trained as a Samaritan (he was taught listening and befriending skills), was that he planned to sue "just about everyone".

He revealed that he had lodged a complaint with the Metropolitan police about their conduct during the investigation that led to his imprisonment.

However, the family of Mohammed Raja have announced that they plan to pursue their fight for justice on behalf of the businessman, who was stabbed five times and shot in the face with a sawn-off shotgun.

Two hitmen, Robert Knapp and David Croke, were jailed for life for his murder, but Mr Raja's family are pursuing a civil case against Mr van Hoogstraten.

Last December, they were awarded £5m in damages against the property tycoon. This payout is expected to be contested next year by Mr van Hoogstraten's lawyers.