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Police watchdog to probe force over collapse of university rape trial

Published 18/05/2016

The IPCC is to investigate Gloucestershire Constabulary
The IPCC is to investigate Gloucestershire Constabulary

An independent watchdog is to investigate a police force over the collapse of a trial of four men accused of the gang rape of a woman at a leading university.

Thady Duff, Leo Mahon and Patrick Foster, all 22, and James Martin, 20, were accused of raping the woman at a summer ball at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, in May 2014.

She claimed she had been subjected to violence, including strangulation, and some of it had been filmed and posted on Snapchat.

The trial had been due to begin at Gloucester Crown Court in March but, following delays due to the late disclosure of evidence and a review of the case, the prosecution offered no evidence and the four defendants were cleared.

Last week during a hearing on defence costs, Judge Jamie Tabor QC, the Recorder of Gloucester, criticised Detective Constable Ben Lewis, the lead officer.

The judge said Det Con Lewis had got too close to the complainant and did not understand his job properly, which led to "stark and very serious omissions" by the officer in failing to disclose "game-changing" evidence.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has decided an independent investigation is "appropriate".

"The circumstances of a criminal investigation conducted by Gloucestershire Constabulary, which was unable to proceed to trial due to issues raised during legal proceedings, will be examined by the Independent Police Complaints Commission," the IPCC said in a statement.

"Issues have been raised concerning the police investigation and the disclosure of evidence in preparation for the trial.

"The matter was referred to the IPCC and we have decided an independent investigation is appropriate.

"The IPCC will carefully examine the actions of the officers involved during both the investigation and the pre-trial process."

After the collapse of the trial, the defendants' barristers criticised Det Con Lewis for "cherry-picking" supportive evidence and "airbrushing out of the picture" anything that could have helped the men.

This included text messages sent by the complainant in the hours after the alleged incident and a conversation with a friend about what would happen if the video became common knowledge.

The mobile telephone evidence was only recovered when experts instructed by the defence carried out a full examination of the device.

It also emerged as the trial was due to begin that police had failed to disclose that the complainant was a witness to an alleged rape on an Army base in October 2014 and that there were inconsistencies in her evidence. The alleged rapist was a soldier but he was later cleared.

Mr Duff, Mr Mahon and Mr Foster, who were students at the university, applied for a proportion of their legal costs to be paid by the prosecution.

They have been left with legal bills totalling £221,000 after hiring three QCs to lead the fight to clear their names.

Judge Tabor granted the application and sent the case to a costs judge to determine the final figures payable.

He criticised Det Con Lewis for his shortcomings in examining the complainant's mobile phone and said he had a "limited grasp of responsibilities" as disclosure officer.

The judge also condemned the Crown Prosecution Service for failing to obtain from the Royal Military Police the files of the case in which the complainant was a witness.

After Judge Tabor's criticisms, Gloucestershire police said Det Con Lewis faced an inquiry by its professional standards department and could face disciplinary action.

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