The family of a private detective found with an axe in his head received apologies from police and lawyers yesterday as three men were cleared of murder.
And Scotland Yard admitted that the first inquiry into the 1987 killing had been hampered by police corruption.
The devastated family of Daniel Morgan said they had been let down by the system and demanded that the Home Secretary should set up a judicial review.
The outcome was even more bitter because it came on the 24th anniversary of Mr Morgan’s death in the car park of the Golden Lion pub in Sydenham, south London.
The five police inquiries and an inquest, as well as three years of legal hearings, are unofficially estimated at £30m.
Detective Chief Superintendent Hamish Campbell said after the case: “On behalf of the Metropolitan Police Service, I sincerely apologise to Daniel Morgan’s family and it is with considerable regret that a trial cannot proceed.
“This current investigation has identified, ever more clearly, how the initial inquiry failed the family and wider public.
“It is quite apparent that police corruption was a debilitating factor in that investigation. This was wholly unacceptable.
“This was a difficult decision to have reached and we recognise the severe disappointment this will cause and how deeply upsetting it is to Daniel’s family and friends.”
The case remains one of the longest unsolved murder cases on Scotland Yard’s books.
It took place against a background of drug dealing and corruption amongst local police officers.
Mr Morgan’s brother Alastair, 62, said: “It was obvious my brother was going to blow the lid off the links between the police and criminals.
“We are devastated. My family has done everything democratically and legally possible to secure justice for Daniel and to expose police corruption.
“We have been failed utterly by all the institutions designed to protect us.
“We call upon the Home Secretary now to order a full judicial inquiry into this sorry state of affairs.”
He said those responsible for the present inquiry and prosecution had done their best “to redress the catastrophic failures of earlier investigations”.
He added: “Despite their best efforts, there has been no public scrutiny of the evidence available in relation to Daniel’s murder.
“We have seen for ourselves a criminal justice system which has proved incapable of coming to terms with the murder or the subsequent criminality of those charged with enforcing the law.”
Nicholas Hilliard QC, prosecuting, apologised to the family in court.
“I apologise to them that we have reached the position we have,” he said.
Mr Hilliard said the case had involved an unprecedented amount of paperwork and police officers had to sort through 750,000 pages of material covering more than 20 years to see what they thought was relevant.
He said the disclosure process had been so complex that the prosecution could not be sure that the defence would have all the material it should have.
The three defendants, Mr Morgan’s former business partner Jonathan Rees, 54, and his brothers-in-law Garry Vian, 50, and Glenn Vian, 52, were released from the Old Bailey.
Two other defendants, James Cook accused of murder and former Detective Sergeant Sid Fillery, charged with perverting justice, had been discharged after supergrass witnesses were discredited. Cook’s former lover had claimed there were 30 bodies of murder victims buried in south London, but none were found.
The defendants had been arrested in 2008 and the trial had been put off several times.
The judge, Mr Justice Maddison, said he did not know what the result of a trial would have been but said the police had “ample grounds” for arresting and prosecuting the men.
But Jonathan Rees said outside court: “I should never have been prosecuted.”
He claimed the police had not followed up leads and had not investigated other suspects properly.
He said officers had put forward people with mental health problems and career criminals as witnesses.
He added: “When Daniel Morgan was killed it was an awful shock to me and to our business. I lost a friend and a business partner.
“My sympathy goes out to Danny Morgan’s family, who have been fired up by police over the years to believe an untrue version of events.”
He added: “The truth is that there were up to 40 alternative suspects that police did not properly investigate.”
He criticised detectives for not being more sceptical of evidence gleaned from people who either had mental health problems or were career criminals.