What a fiasco. Sussex Police were in trouble the moment an unarmed man suspected of drug dealing was shot dead in his flat.

But now, three long years after the killing of James Ashley, all five officers who were charged have been cleared of any misconduct.

It has taken more than a thousand days and a bill of £5 million, to be footed by the taxpayer, to prove precisely nothing.

Five officers have been put through hell over a long period. So has the family of James Ashley.

Why couldn't this have been settled much nearer the start?

Here is a case that has slowly and painstakingly gone through the legal system, eventually landing up at a crown court in the Midlands.

Yet PC Chris Sherwood, who fired the fatal shot, was cleared of murder earlier this month and last month PC Robert Shoesmith was acquitted of misusing public office.

Now the other three, Superintendent Christopher Burton, Acting Chief Inspector Kevin French and Detective Inspector Christopher Siggs, have also been acquitted of misconduct.

In effect, when the case came to court, it fell at the first hurdle. The Crown saw no realistic prospect of securing convictions against any of the three men and offered no evidence.

The facts were clear. No one disputed why the men were there or what they expected to find in the flat at Hastings. No one disputed the fact that PC Sherwood shot Ashley dead during the raid in the building at Western Road.

There were two separate inquiries, one by Kent Police on the alleged criminal aspects of the shooting and another by the former Chief Constable of Hampshire, Sir John Hodinott, on the actions of the force's senior officers.

Enough evidence was available at an early stage for it to be obvious there was little chance the prosecution case against these five officers would be strong enough for any jury to convict them.

Yet still the prosecution plodded on until the tardy but inevitable conclusion reached yesterday in Wolverhampton.

Despite all that, there are still big questions to be answered about the firearms procedures of Sussex Police.

This is by no means the end of the story. Ashley was hardly an angel but his family feel aggrieved and intend to sue Sussex Police for compensation, an action that could rumble on for years to come.

The ramifications have spread far beyond the five men and the Ashley family. The Chief Constable, Paul Whitehouse, was himself suspended for three weeks over statements he made soon after the incident.

His deputy, Mark Jordan, is still suspended and faces a disciplinary hearing that will also take many months to resolve.

It may also make officers wary of taking action when they are dealing with potentially violent criminals. Much still needs to be done during the months ahead.

There have been many losers and no winners in this sad affair.

It has been a complete calamity for three long years and it is not over yet.