Police officers will face no charges over the arrest of a man who was left in a vegetative state, having suffered a broken neck, after prosecutors concluded there was not enough evidence against them.

Julian Cole suffered a severed spinal cord after a night out in Bedford in May 2013, during which he was arrested by officers and carried to a police van. Relatives of the athlete and student, who is black, later said they had been inspired to speak out about his case by the Black Lives Matter movement in the US.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission referred five of the six Bedfordshire police officers it investigated to prosecutors for possible criminal charges to be brought in 2016. The investigator also said the officers could have a case of gross misconduct to answer.

On Wednesday, the Crown Prosecution Service announced it had declined to bring any charges, though Bedfordshire police said four of the officers would now face gross misconduct proceedings. The other retired before any such case could be brought.

Speaking last year, Cole’s mother, Claudia, said her son would need 24-hour care for the rest of his life. “Julian is still alive, but it cannot be said that he is really living.” She said Julian had been due to graduate from university at that time “but he never got a chance”.

Claudia Cole added: “Julian had big dreams, big ambitions, and all of those are dashed. We miss him so much every day.”

Police officers and door staff at the club Cole attended were questioned over the incident and Cole’s family said in January 2015 that IPCC investigators told them that, at that stage, they believed police were responsible for his injuries.

Claudius Cole said at that time that his brother Julian’s life had been “destroyed”.

In a 2015 interview, he drew a parallel between his family’s campaign and that against police violence against black people in the US. “It is the same type of behaviour, it hasn’t been as well publicised. Julian did not need six officers to pin him down – he is only 5ft 5in and was unarmed – excessive force used is just the same. There are questions to ask about whether there may be a racial element to how they treated Julian.”

The Cole family also took part in a solidarity event in London with families from Ferguson, Missouri, which was at the centre of the Black Lives Matter movement.

On Wednesday, a CPS spokesperson said: “Following a referral from the IPCC, in September 2016, of five officers from Bedfordshire police over the injuries sustained by Julian Cole, CPS lawyers considered charges of misconduct in public office, perverting the course of justice and breaches of health and safety law.

“They have now concluded that there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against any of the officers and no further action will be taken.”

Bedfordshire police confirmed that gross misconduct hearings would go ahead in relation to the four officers still serving. Temporary Dep Ch Con Mike Colbourne said: “Our thoughts remain with Julian Cole’s family and friends, who have had to wait almost four years for this decision.

“It is disappointing the investigation by the IPCC took such a long time to get to this point, which has put added strain on Mr Cole’s family and the officers involved.”

Cole, who was 20 at the time of the incident, was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence. The case was dropped because of his condition.