TWO people arrested and put behind bars for a murder they did not commit have been awarded "substantial" damages by the police.

In 2001 Shaun Doyle and Joanne Morgan were cleared of killing doorman Kevin Nightingale, who was shot outside his South Shields home on February 17, 1996, before the case even got to trial.

But by then the pair had spent weeks behind bars away from their families and say their lives have been blighted by rumours of "no smoke without fire" ever since.

Mr Doyle and Mrs Morgan launched an action against Northumbria Police for wrongful arrest and malicious prosecution, which started at the High Court, sitting in Newastle, on Tuesday.

But in a dramatic twist the four week trial came to a halt yesterday when the force offered to pay "substantial" damages in an out-of-court settlement.

Mr Doyle and Mrs Morgan accepted the offer and in exchange dropped allegations of any wrongdoing by the police and expert witnesses involved in the case.

The settlement was approved by Mr Justice Holland and Mr James Dingemans QC read a statment to the court which cleared Mr Doyle, 34, Mrs Morgan, 33, and her then husband Ian Morgan, 43, of any involement in the murder of their friend.

Mr Dingemans said: "The Chief Constable accepts that Ian Morgan, Joanne Morgan and Shaun Doyle are innocent of any involvement in the murder of Kevin Nightingale.

"The Chief Constable has agreed, without any admission of liability, to pay damages and costs to Joanne Morgan and Shaun Doyle.

"In the light of the above, Ian Morgan, Joanne Morgan and Shaun Doyle are happy to withdraw all allegations of malice and wrongdoing made in these proceedings against all police officers and expert witnesses involved in the investigation."

Mr Justice Holland said the settlement marked the "end of an unhappy chapter" but said he had not been involved long enough in the case to make any particular comment about the proceedings.

After the hearing Mr Doyle and Mrs Morgan's solicitor David Forrester read a statement on their and Mr Morgan's behalf.

Mr Forrester said: "On January 10, 2000, the lives of Ian Morgan, Joanne Morgan and Shaun Doyle were ruined when they were arrested and prosecuted for the murder of Kevin Nightingale.

"He was their friend. The case against them was eventually discharged through lack of evidence but not before each of them spent a substantial amount of time in custody causing Joanne Morgan, in particular, to lose her job and suffer post-traumatic stress disorder having been separated from her infant child.

"In July 2001 they were arrested again and again returned to prison.

"Once more, after proper consideration of the evidence against them, the case was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service and they were found not guilty.

"Today, Ian Morgan, Shuan Doyle and Joanne Morgan have finally been fully vindicated.

"The Chief Constable has accepted they are totally innocent of any involvement in the murder of their friend.

"The Chief Constable has agreed to pay substantial damages to Shaun Doyle and Joanne Morgan as well as their legal costs.

"The three have no doubt that, following their total and absolute vindication, Northumbria Police will re-double their efforts to find the murderer of Kevin Nightingale."

Mr Doyle spent 10 weeks in jail and Mrs Morgan spent more than seven weeks locked up away from her young child.

A police video taken of her arrest showed Mrs Morgan being woken from her sleep at 5am and taken to custody where she would spent precious weeks away from her two-and-a-half year old.

Mr Dingemans said Mr Doyle and Mrs Morgan have suffered "tremendous damage" as a result of being linked to the murder.

Mr Doyle had been due to start his new business on the day he was arrested and locked away from his family.

Mr Doyle had just dropped off Mr Nightingale near his home after he finished his shift at Oz nightclub moments before he was shot.

Mr and Mrs Morgan were also in the car.

Nobody has ever been convicted of Mr Nightingale's murder.