'IT WAS TOTAL FARCE'.
tHE victims of a bungled Gwent Police probe are to sue the force after their lives were turned upside down by their investigation.
Daniel O'Connell and Clayton Richards were accused of planning to defraud their own charity but the charges were thrown out by Judge Stephen Hopkins QC last year when the prosecution admitted the case against them was "invalid".
"The whole thing, from start to finish, was a total farce," Mr Richards, 40, said.
"You grow up and are taught to respect the police. And then you see the behaviour of individuals and it beggars belief and it makes you lose total confidence."
Mr O'Connell and Mr Richards founded the Life Music Foundation in 2010. They were arrested in November 2013 following accusations they plundered profits from a July 2012 fundraising dinner at the Celtic Manor for their own means.
"These people are paid to be objective," Mr Richards said of the police. "Their job is to gather evidence and present a subjective case."
The charges against Mr Richards and Mr O'Connell were finally thrown out last June.
"It has been a long, drawn-out process and for a long time what has been going on has frustrated me," Mr Richards said.
"It makes you angry." It got worse once they were charged. "Once it is out there that you have been charged it is public knowledge," Mr Richards said.
"On social media people do what they want. People make up their minds and make a judgement.
"They see a story and start passing comment on 'the crime' but there was no crime."
The Celtic Manor dinner was a star-studded evening.
It was attended by musicians, TV stars, charity patron and ex-Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas and Hollywood star Mickey Rourke.
"People I knew were making comments online and that hurts," Mr Richards, who lives in Cwmbran, said.
"Anyone who says that does not hurt is a liar. It was hard to deal with.
"But when it becomes public it is a whole different ball game."
Mr Richards knew the case was "ridiculous".
"I knew there was no crime," he said.
"Though I've lost faith in the police I've not lost faith in the justice system.
"I had faith that eventually someone would realise this was a whole misunderstanding.
"That someone had got very confused and at some point someone would say, 'Hang on, none of this adds up.' I didn't realise it would take so long."
Live Music Foundation has since folded.
Mr O'Connell, who now runs the Red Storm fashion agency, said: "This has affected not just me but those close to me: family, colleagues, business partners.
"I think we deserve financial compensation."
The investigation had ruined the ex-stockbroker's standing.
"I could never be in finance again, not only because I have lost knowledge, but because mud always sticks," he said.
"I was like a leper in the Newport business community. It's amazing the amount of people, so-called friends, who desert you.
"My name was dirt." Barrister Andrew Taylor represented Mr O'Connell in the case.
He said: "Dan was found to be entitled to his costs so the next move now is to consider bringing a civil action."
The lawyer said getting costs back was quite unusual.
He encouraged the police to "do some research and act on reasonable suspicion" before they executed search warrants.
Former rugby player Gareth Williams and Mr O'Connell's wife Nikki were also arrested but had the charges against them dropped in November 2014.
Mr Taylor said: "The press were interested in a rugby international and a man who played for Cardiff Blues who was said to be taking money from a charity." He said Mr Williams "feels his reputation has suffered".
No decision has been made as to how much any of the claimants may be seeking from Gwent Police.
A spokesman for Gwent Police said: "We can confirm that a formal complaint has been received.
"As this is a live investigation we are unable to comment further at this stage."