SERVING officers deliberately suppressed vital evidence that could have prevented an Asian policeman being wrongly sent to jail, a judge ruled yesterday.

Father-of-two Sultan Alam always insisted he had been framed by fellow officers in Cleveland Police and last night he spoke of his relief after his conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Mr Alam was given an apology by the Cleveland force after Lord Justice Moore-Bick described his treatment as a "very grave case".

Mr Alam, a former traffic policeman, was convicted at Teesside Crown Court in 1996 of handling stolen car parts.

He was sentenced to 18 months in jail, despite protesting his innocence and insisting he had been framed.

Yesterday, three Appeal Court judges overturned the conviction after finding that serving police officers at the time deliberately suppressed vital evidence that could have led to Mr Alam's acquittal.

The Crown Prosecution Service did not contest Mr Alam's appeal, telling the Appeal Court hearing it had been misled.

Lord Justice Moore-Bick, sitting with two other senior judges, ruled that in the light of new evidence relating to police misconduct, the court was satisfied that Mr Alam's conviction was unsafe.

Key to the success of Mr Alam's appeal was material that could have led the jury at his Teesside Crown Court trial to acquit him being kept from his lawyers.

Lord Justice Moore-Bick ruled that police officers had "deliberately misled" the court "in order to suppress evidence".

Information in 21 witness statements before the appeal court made it clear that police ''deliberately concealed some important material from the Crown Prosecution Service and from prosecuting counsel'', which was therefore not available to those acting for Mr Alam at trial.

Lord Justice Moore-Bick said the prosecution's case at trial was that Mr Alam had substantial debts and was involved in a conspiracy to handle stolen car parts. Mr Alam, who joined Cleveland Police in 1984, made a claim in 1993 alleging racial discrimination. The judge said the constable had maintained that he was "deliberately targeted and wrongly implicated" by the police in order to discredit him and undermine tribunal proceedings.

Mr Alam, who served nine months in prison for a crime he did not commit, told The Northern Echo that he now wants to return to the police.

He said: "I wish to resume my career where I left off. Because there were a few bad apples, you don't throw out the entire barrel and I have no wish to tarnish any police officer with what these other people did to me.

"Justice has been done, finally, and I never doubted it would. Truth always comes out, but it has taken a very long time."

Mr Alam, who since his dismissal from the force has worked as a taxi driver and runs a mobile phone shop, has been told that the "door is open" for him to return.

Cleveland Chief Constable Sean Price, who was not in post at the time of the miscarriage of justice, said the force fully supported Mr Alam in his ambition to return to the ranks.

Lord Justice Moore-Bick said yesterday Mr Alam's conviction was "unsafe" and had to be quashed.

Speaking after the hearing, Mr Alam, who lives in Middlesbrough, said: "I feel a mix of emotions. Obviously, relief is one of them. The word bitter is not even on the scale.

"There will be no celebrations, because 13 years of my life were destroyed and there is nothing to celebrate about that."

Operation Granite, a two-and-a-half year independent police investigation by Northumbria police officers into Mr Alam's claims, resulted in four officers being charged with offences.

Former control room inspector Steve Bakewell, ex-detective inspector Russ Daglish, 44, detective constables Martin Eggermont, 46, and Stewart Hopson, 40, all appeared at Newcastle Crown Court last year, on charges of perverting the course of justice.

Det Con Hopson and Insp Bakewell were also charged with perjury, and Det Con Eggermont with incitement to commit theft of a motor vehicle. All the charges were dismissed when the case collapsed.

Mr Bakewell said last night: "The original investigation in 1994 was conducted with honesty, impartiality and integrity by all those involved.

"We are surprised at the circumstances surrounding this case coming before the Court of Appeal, but the quashing of Mr Alam's conviction is a matter of legal process which it would not be appropriate for me to comment upon."

Mr Price said evidence came to light, during Operation Granite, which cast serious doubt on the safety of Mr Alam's conviction.

He said: "We had no hesitation in disclosing that evidence and in the light of that evidence, it is not surprising that the Crown Prosecution Service has not opposed Mr Alam's appeal against conviction and that the Court of Appeal has overturned the 1996 conviction."

The chief constable said: "This decision should send out a clear message that Cleveland Police is determined to ensure fairness and justice for all.

"Neither myself nor any of the current Acpo team were in post at the time of these events but it is only right that I, as chief constable, apologise on behalf of the force to Mr Alam for what happened."

Graham Brown, Mr Alam's solicitor, said: "A grave injustice had been put right after too many years. Mr Alam left the Court today an innocent man."

Mr Alam, who was, at the time, the only Asian police officer in the force's traffic department claimed he was framed for the false car-ringing offences after beginning proceedings against the force for racial discrimination, which included a Klu Klux Klan poster being left in his in-tray.

An employment tribunal found last year that he had suffered racial discrimination at the hands of the Police Federation. He had been declined legal support by the Police Federation three times, following his conviction for handling stolen goods, but the four officers who he said had set him up were given the federation's full support during their trial for perverting the course of justice. Mr Alam was awarded compensation of £25,000.