A FORMER undertaker today vowed to take legal action after enduring two years of hell before being cleared of sexually assaulting mentally-handicapped men.

The move came after a Crown Court judge severely criticised the investigation into allegations against Richard Chew, 68, of Brownlow Street, Clitheroe, and said the prosecution would never have been brought if it had been conducted properly.

Mr Chew was arrested in 1999 over offences alleged to have taken place in the 1990s and involving three mentally handicapped men.

But the case was brought to a halt earlier this week when Judge Anthony Proctor was told that had the Crown been in possession of medical evidence from a GP, the probability was that the prosecution would not have been brought.

Today Mr Chew's solicitor said the medical report, which said the evidence of the alleged victims could not be trusted because of their mental state, was only produced because he had pressed for it and slammed the actions of the Crown Prosecution Service and the police.

The CPS said it had discontinued the matter because of fresh evidence on the day the matter was due to go to trial at Preston Crown Court but would not comment further.

Nobody from Lancashire police was available to comment.

Judge Proctor said: "Had this case been properly investigated months ago, it is perfectly clear the prosecution would not have been brought." A not guilty verdict was entered and an order made for defence costs.

Mr Chew, who is the chauffeur for the deputy mayor of Clitheroe and used to run Clitheroe Funeral Services before retiring four years ago, said: "No-one could imagine what we have been through over the past two years. Never in my life did I ever imagine that I would be accused of sickening offences like the ones I was accused of.

"I used to drive coaches and ambulances and that is how I came into contact with these men. I was nice to them, but I never did anything else."

Mr Chew added: "In a small town like Clitheroe, everyone knew what was going on. It was hell and I have had to wait a long time to be able to say I have been proved innocent.

"Fortunately, my friends and family have been wonderful.

"In one respect, I am disappointed that the case wasn't heard in full. Then people would have known more details which would have proved my innocence and shamed those who accused me." He is now in discussions with his solicitor, David Room of Farley's in Preston, about taking action against the police and CPS.

In court, barrister John Jackson, defending, said: "At last on the second anniversary it has suddenly dawned on the Crown Prosecution Service they had difficulties. For two years it has caused Mr Chew and his wife and small daughter incredible pain out of incompetence."

Mr Room said: "This is a very sad case involving a man who has dedicated his life to helping others and sticking up for them. I believe the conduct of the prosecution has been reprehensible.

"The only reason this medical evidence, which were psychological reports, was put forward was because I pressed for it. Had the police and the CPS done their jobs, they would have had this evidence, which proves the fact that the complainants cannot be trusted due to their ill state, a long time before it came to court."

A spokesman for the CPS said: "All we can say is that on the first day of the trial there was fresh evidence presented which we had previously been unaware of. As a result, the only course of action was to discontinue the matter."