December 22 2014 Latest news:
Alex Hurrell, Reporter
Sunday, July 27, 2014
A former Norfolk psychiatric hospital chief, wrongly charged with defrauding the NHS, believes a five-year fight to clear his name is over.
The EDP asked Norfolk police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) whether they would make a public apology to Andrew Breeze and Dominic Wilson.
A Norfolk police spokesman said: “Norfolk Constabulary has continued to respond to and co-operate fully with complaints raised by Mr Breeze since his acquittal in 2009.
“Simon Bailey, then deputy chief constable, wrote to Mr Breeze in May 2013 to outline the constabulary’s position following a CPS review of the case.
“Our position remains that it accepts the findings of the CPS review that there was no illegal behaviour by Mr Breeze or Mr Wilson within the body of evidence presented as part of Operation Meridian and that Mr Breeze and Mr Wilson are innocent of the charges brought against them.
“The constabulary has previously apologised personally to Mr Breeze for learning points identified during subsequent internal and independent investigations and for any distress caused as a result.”
A CPS spokesman said: “In June 2010, we wrote to Mr Breeze acknowledging that the decision to charge him was wrong and we apologised for the distress and inconvenience caused.
“Furthermore, in an information tribunal hearing earlier this year, we acknowledged that the evidence presented to us in 2009 did not demonstrate dishonest conduct.
“That acknowledgement is in the tribunal’s ruling which is in the public domain.”
But Andrew Breeze still wants Norfolk Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to apologise publicly for ruining his reputation, destroying Cawston Park Hospital, and wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.
And he has been backed by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb who described the case as a tragedy and “a serious failure of investigation”.
Mr Breeze, 59, who is also calling for a public inquiry into why the case was brought to trial, has described its devastating impact on his life since the November 14 dawn in 2006 when police raided his home.
He and Dominic Wilson were subsequently charged with misappropriating more than £2m of public funds by overcharging for services at the private hospital, near Aylsham, where he had been chief executive and Mr Wilson, financial director.
2003 - The private Cawston Park Hospital, near Aylsham, opens to treat severely mentally-ill patients.
Early 2006 - A disgruntled former employee contacts the NHS Counter Fraud hotline alleging financial wrong-doing at the hospital. The man had resigned before a disciplinary hearing into allegations against him including theft and an extra-marital affair with another staff member.
July 2006 - NHS Counter Fraud hand over the case to the police.
November 14 2006 - More than 50 police officers carry out a dawn raid and arrest Cawston Park bosses including chief executive Andrew Breeze, financial director Dominic Wilson and chairman David Prior, former MP for North Norfolk. The investigation is dubbed Operation Meridian.
February 28 2008 - Mr Breeze and Mr Wilson are charged with conspiracy to defraud the NHS. The accusations relate to the amount the hospital billed for providing some patients with “extra care.”
April 2009 - The trial begins at Ipswich Crown Court.
June 16 2009 - The judge halts proceedings and directs that the men are acquitted, saying the allegations were unfounded. He told the pair they left the court “exonerated and as innocent men.”
Post June 2009 - Andrew and Paul Breeze begin fighting to have documents relating to the case released. They believe the Breeze good name has not been fully cleared, claiming that a senior police officer publicly expressed disappointment with the trial outcome, and another had discussed the case in a Norwich club, indicating that he believed the men were guilty.
June 2010 - Lawyer Elizabeth Bailey writes a private letter on behalf of the CPS to Andrew Breeze, apologising for distress caused and acknowledging that the decision to charge the men had been wrong. But she refers to evidence of five “indicators of dishonesty” about the two charged men.
March 21 2011 - Solicitor General, Edward Garnier, on behalf of the CPS, apologises to Andrew Breeze and Dominic Wilson in the House of Commons. He says the case should never have come to trial, but then referred to Ms Bailey’s indicators of dishonesty. The Breeze brothers believe this was a further public slur on their family name.
May 2 2013 - After a long fight for justice, Andrew Breeze receives a private letter of apology on behalf of Norfolk police from Simon Bailey, then deputy - now chief - constable of the force.
June 2014 - Paul Breeze is partially successful in an application to a Freedom of Information Act tribunal for two key documents to be released. A month later he is given a redacted copy of one document, Elizabeth Bailey’s review into the CPS case. The tribunal records that in verbal evidence Ms Bailey said, when “taken in the round” the five indicators of dishonesty she had earlier referred to, “did not demonstrate dishonest conduct.”. Andrew Breeze believes this finally clears his name.
But the pair walked free in June 2009 after the judge at Ipswich Crown Court ruled the allegations were unfounded, declaring that they left court “exonerated and as innocent men”.
However, Mr Breeze, of Thomas Wyatt Close, off Newmarket Road, Norwich, believes public statements made after the trial’s collapse by the police and CPS cast doubt on their innocence. He and his brother, Paul, have been battling ever since to clear their family name, and that of Mr Wilson, who has since moved away from East Anglia.
After a private apology from the police, and a recent tribunal statement made by a lawyer acting for the CPS, the brothers believe the slur has finally been lifted, but they want the authorities to apologise and assert the men’s complete innocence in a more public forum. “I am fully satisfied that mine and Dominic Wilson’s names, after five years of hard fighting, have been fully cleared,” said Andrew. “A burden has been lifted from my shoulders.”
Father-of-two Andrew remembered solicitors warning him that, if convicted, he could face six to eight years in prison and would only be eligible for parole if he admitted guilt and expressed remorse.
“I knew I couldn’t do that, because I was innocent. That was a dark time. For my then 14-year-old daughter, the length of sentence was a devastating thought,” he said.
“It was also a tragedy that Norfolk lost an excellent mental-health care facility that was taking in some of the most difficult patients in the country. Some had been in hospitals for 10-12 years and we were treating them effectively and discharging them,” added Andrew, a former psychiatric nurse with 30 years’ experience in the NHS.
“I think I have come out stronger but I would hate anyone else to go through this,” said Mr Breeze. “How can we educate the police so it won’t happen to someone else in future because, unless lessons are learned, it’s quite possible that it will?”
Mr Lamb supported the brothers’ call for full public apologies.
“It was utterly shocking that this case was ever brought to trial,” he said. “It was a serious failure of investigation. The police and CPS have to recognise that you destroy someone’s career and reputation when this sort of thing happens, and that loss is incalculable.
“It would be better to acknowledge the need to make a complete apology for the enormous impact this failed investigation has had.
“It’s also a scandalous waste of public money – it’s a tragic case.”
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