The former Victorian mental asylum at the centre of an NHS fraud trial became the victim of vandalism and neglect, a jury was told.

Hellingly Hospital, near Hailsham, remains derelict despite health bosses deciding more than 20 years ago it was no longer needed.

The jury at Hove Crown Court has been told attempts to sell the site were hit by problems because for many years Wealden District Council refused to give permission for homes to be built on the land.

Two men are on trial accused of plotting the cut-price sale of the site.

The retired planning director of Eastbourne County Healthcare NHS Trust, Noel Primrose, is accused of receiving a £21,000 bribe from land consultant Peter Harrison to ensure the deal went through.

The court has heard part of the site was sold to housebuilders Gleesons in 1998 for £2.2 million but the prosecution claims the land was worth £3.7 million on the open market at the time of the deal.

An investigation into the sale was set up by the NHS trust after Primrose retired in 2000. A civil action was later settled when Gleesons agreed to pay more for the site before selling it on to another building developer for a profit.

Christopher Fincham, the trust’s former director of finance, who has also since retired, told the jury it was the trust’s duty to obtain the best possible price for the site.

He confirmed that part of the site was still being used to treat and care for psychiatric patients, including Ashenhill, a medium secure unit, and also a halfway hostel.

But the main Victorian buildings were boarded up, roofs have caved in and damage caused by fires started by vandals.

During cross-examination, he agreed when Julian Dale, defending Primrose, asked: “The trust’s business is to look after sick people and not to be property speculators?”

Primrose, 70, of Brook House, Wartling, near Hailsham, and Harrison, 68, of Oakworth, West Yorkshire, deny conspiracy to defraud the trust between 1996 and 2000.

The trial continues.