CLEARED and told by a Crown Court judge that not a stain lies on his character, East Lancashire defendant Richard Chew is obviously a much-relieved man after the sudden collapse of the case against him in which he was accused of nine counts of indecently assaulting mentally-handicapped men.

But he is right to be bitter and angry, too. For, needlessly, he was put through two years of hell by the police and Crown Prosecution Service -- by their failure to investigate as they should have done.

The alleged offences were sickening. To be accused of them would cause anyone extreme anguish -- above all, the innocent.

But for 68-year-old Mr Chew that agony was made all the more acute by virtue of him being a well-known figure -- a retired undertaker and a civic chauffeur -- in the small town of Clitheroe.

And though his friends and family stood by him, he had to suffer the torment of wagging tongues all that long age. As his barrister remarked, the pain he and his wife and daughter were caused was incredible.

Yet, cruelly, it all stemmed from official incompetence.

Despite Mr Chew's three accusers being three mentally-handicapped men he came into contact with during the 1990s when he used to drive coaches and ambulances, no-one at police or CPS sought medical evidence to prove whether their evidence could be believed. But when Mr Chew's defence pressed for psychological reports -- doing what the prosecution should have done long before -- it was shown that the men could not be trusted.

As a result, the trial collapsed and the prosecution dropped the case. Mr Chew was declared not guilty and an order made for defence costs, with the judge declaring: "Had this case been properly investigated months ago, it is perfectly clear the prosecution would not have been brought."

Mr Chew is considering legal action against the police and the CPS -- as well he might. But, surely, other concerns remain.

They are, why on earth should it take so long to prepare a case? And does anyone get dragged over the coals for making such a horrendous mess of it -- and an innocent person's life?