FIVE people accused of a massive fraud at St Margaret's Hospice have been cleared by a jury of any wrongdoing.

Jon Andrewes, former chief executive of the Bishop's Hull-based charity who is from Stoke Gabriel, Devon, and former finance boss Alistair Gibson, of Stanton Drew, were found not guilty following a trial at Bristol Crown Court.

And building contractors Robert Bardle, of Wells, Andrew Howard, from Chard, and Kenneth Stevens, of Keinton Mandeville, who carried out work for St Margaret's have also been cleared of fraud.

But two former workers at the hospice, Paul Raymond and Caroline Longstreet, had previously pleaded guilty to fraud.

The case centred around claims of an attempted £622,000 fraud involving fake invoices in a bid to attract grants from the Department of Health.

The invoices were for work at St Margaret's Hospice in Yeovil, Quantock House in Taunton, living facilities in Taunton and Yeovil and a new Bridgwater hospice centre.

Following the verdicts, St Margaret's Hospice issued the following statement: "We accept today’s verdicts and would like to thank the NHS anti-fraud team, prosecutors, Judge Lambert and the jury for all their hard work on this lengthy and complex case.

"The matters over which two people did plead guilty were historic, dating from 2010 to 2015, and were discovered after Ann Lee took over as chief executive of St Margaret’s in 2015.

"She commissioned an internal investigation and this in turn led to the NHS anti-fraud investigation, an inquiry with which we fully cooperated throughout.

"This case concerned irregularities in how grant funds were obtained and spent. No-one involved in running or working at St Margaret’s Hospice Care today was accused of any wrongdoing.

"We have since strengthened our governance policies and procedures to ensure that what happened between 2010 and 2015 cannot happen in future.

"Since this time we have received two ‘Outstanding’ ratings from the Care Quality Commission for our Taunton and Yeovil sites, as well as our community provision. Both of these inspections include an outstanding rating for leadership. Our Board of Trustees have also completed a Cass Business School governance review.

"We contacted Hospice UK to inform them of what St Margaret’s had discovered, and immediately repaid the grant for the Bridgwater Hub project. No one personally benefited from the fraud.

"We believe it is essential for continued public trust in charities that, when past wrongdoing is uncovered, it is reported and investigated rather than being swept under the carpet, even when this presents considerable and immediate challenges for maintaining the charity’s good name and reputation in the community that it serves.

"It would have been easier to keep quiet, but we hope people will recognise and understand that we did the right thing in bringing the situation to light."

*Andrewes was previously jailed in 2017 after he admitted deception and fraud.

He was overpaid by £643,000 over more than a decade after lying his way into a string of top jobs.