The father of the police marksman cleared of murdering James Ashley today demanded to know why it took so long to bring the case to trial.

Laurie Sherwood, a 57-year-old former superintendent and head of CID, said the life of his son, PC Chris Sherwood, and those of other defendants had been put on "complete hold".

He said: "Chris has lost the most productive years of his life and he will never get them back."

PC Sherwood, whose wife is expecting their first child in August, is currently on holiday and is considering whether or not to return to the Sussex force.

His father, who worked with the Metropolitan and Cambridgeshire forces, said there were no checks and balances to bring the case to an early conclusion. He said: "Questions need to be asked in the House."

The three year and four month delay cost taxpayers an estimated £5 million and has left the Ashley family more grief stricken than ever.

It has caused a rift between Sussex and Kent police forces and has led to calls for sweeping changes in the way police complaints are handled.

Sussex Police has been attacked for "complete corporate failure" over the ill-fated operation, yet no one was found guilty of any wrongdoing.

Mid Sussex Tory election candidate Nicholas Soames said even the Home Secretary was concerned.

He added: "I complained to Mr Straw and he said he too was unhappy but that his hands were tied by the police complaints procedures.

"They simply do not work. These officers should never have been put in this position in the first place.

"Justice delayed is justice denied, and if this adage applies to the common criminal then it applies doubly so to honourable police officers."

All five officers charged in connection with the fatal shooting in 1998 have now been cleared of any crime.

Mr Soames called it a farce and said: "The whole system of the way police complaints are handled in these circumstances is unfair and unjust."

He is particularly angry at the two-year suspension of £80,000-a-year Sussex Deputy Chief Constable Mark Jordan, 42, following accusations that he had authorised the release of firearms for the Ashley operation when there was insufficient evidence, a charge he has always strongly denied.

One Sussex officer said: "He, like the rest of the officers, feels frustrated.

"The courts heard only the prosecution and the criticisms stemming from the Kent police report. Sussex officers had no chance to refute them or to reply to them."

The Kent report, estimated to have cost £2 million, was yesterday used by Nigel Sweeney QC, prosecuting, as he offered no evidence against the defendants.

He said the Kent investigation found little "proper and vigorous" firearms practice in the Sussex force.

It concluded: "It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the conduct of firearms operation and the management of the related issues together represented a complete corporate failure in duty to society."

It said failures included the fact that Detective Inspector Chris Siggs, the intelligence officer in the case, had no formal training in that role, and neither did Acting Chief Inspector Kevin French in his role as incident commander.

He said there was evidence Sussex Police used the wrong technique as they raided Ashley's flat but the failures went deep inside the force.

Mr Sweeney said: "At that time, the depth of the failures was not appreciated to be as profound as has now become apparent and thus it was considered that they mitigated against the likelihood of conviction."

He stressed that Sussex had no opportunity during the trials to deal with the failures.

Chief Constable Paul Whitehouse is studying the criticisms.

Meanwhile, the acquitted officers are considering civil action to compensate them for the delays and for what some consider a cruel and unusual "punishment".