The settlement, to include pounds 100,000 to each Metropolitan Police officer and their costs of pounds 1.2m, comes after a six-year battle and six months after the programme's makers lost a pounds 1m libel action brought by Marks & Spencer. Combined with its own costs, Granada is set to lose pounds 2m in total.
A spokesman for the officers' solicitors, Russell Jones and Walker, said the men were pleased the case had concluded in their favour, but "this will never make up for the damage caused to these entirely innocent and blameless men". One of the men, Paul Giles, has since left the force, suffering mental problems and nervous breakdowns, and is unemployed and living in subsidised housing in Northern Ireland.
A Granada spokesman refused to comment but insiders confirmed it was settling the case today. It has already broadcast an apology.
The men - Mr Giles, Peter Bleakley and Emlyn Welsh, sued after World in Action broadcast a programme in April 1992 casting doubt on the official reasons for the death in December 1990, in a London police cell, of Patrick Quinn, an Irish labourer who had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly.
Quinn's cellmate, Malcolm Kennedy, was found covered in blood after the two were left alone. Kennedy was convicted of murder. The programme cast doubt on the official line, and, using evidence from Kennedy and a Police Complaints Authority inquiry, implied Quinn may have been killed by a policeman and that the officers were present and participated in a cover- up. Kennedy's conviction was quashed in February 1993.
New evidence found soon after indicated the officers were not in Hammersmith Police Station at the time of the murder, vindicating their stories and casting doubt on Kennedy's evidence and the documentary. He was retried and convicted of Quinn's manslaughter in April 1994, and next year the three officers issued a writ against Granada for libel.
Their solicitors said yesterday: "Viewers ... were left with the impression that it was a police officer who had murdered Patrick Quinn."
A source said Mr Giles initially sought more in damages than his former colleagues, believing the programme implied he had been involved in Quinn's killing. However, his mental state has deteriorated to the extent that he would not have been able to appear in court as a witness in his libel case.
The timing of the settlement will embarrass Granada, which last month won a contract to produce a new flagship one-hour documentary programmealong the lines of America's Sixty Minutes. Jeff Anderson, World in Action's editor, will oversee the new show.
Granada is believed to have won the contract for the new programme after its fierce rival, Carlton, found itself mired in a storm about the authenticity of some of its documentaries.
The Big Winners, from Elton to Archer
Elton John. Received pounds 1m in out-of-court settlement with The Sun in 1988 after it made allegations about his sex life.
Lord Aldington, former Tory deputy chairman, won pounds 1.5m in 1989 over claims by Count Nikolai Tolstoy that he sent Cossacks to their deaths in 1945.
John and Jean Walker, boat designers, awarded pounds 1,485,000 in 1994 over article in Yachting World attacking their boat.
Amount reduced to pounds 160,000.
Graeme Souness, former Liverpool football manager. Won pounds 750,000 for article in The People in 1993. Amount reduced to pounds 100,000.
Sonia Sutcliffe, former wife of Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe. Won pounds 600,000 from Private Eye, prompting the editor, Ian Hislop, famously to comment, "If this is justice, I'm a banana." Amount reduced to pounds 60,000.
Jeffrey Archer, novelist and Tory peer. Won pounds 500,000 in 1987 over allegations about his sex life in the Daily Star.
The Mirror paid pounds 1,125,000 in damages and costs in 1996 after Anthony Percy, a neurosurgeon, brought an action relating to allegations following a patient's death.