Parishioners carry the coffin of murdered anti-mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino in Palermo in this 1992 file photo. Picture: REUTERS/Domenico Stinellis

Rome - Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino are Italy's most famous martyrs in the decades-long fight against the Mafia: the two anti-Mafia prosecutors were killed 25 years ago in separate bomb attacks that jolted the country into taking the mob more seriously.

But the run-up to commemorations for Borsellino, who was slain in Palermo, Sicily, on July 19, 1992, has been marred by public recognition that early investigations into his murder led to a massive miscarriage of justice.

On Thursday, the Court of Appeal of Catania cleared nine people of murder charges, including six people who had previously been given life sentences and Vincenzo Scarantino, a man whose false confession got them on the dock.

Scarantino, a small-time criminal, spoke to police under duress, and ended up with an 18-year prison sentence. His accusations were later proved wrong in 2008 by another Mafia turncoat, which led to a review of the case.

Scarantino and the others were freed in 2011, but their convictions for Borsellino's slaughter were still valid until this week's ruling.

They are now eligible for compensation as victims of a miscarriage of justice, but a separate court has to review their case before this can happen. In the Catania trial, the prosecution presented public apologies to them - a very unusual gesture.

"I think that this affair is the most serious - and still very murky - in recent Italian history," Enrico Deaglio, a journalist who has written extensively on the botched investigations on Borsellino's death, said after Thursday's verdict.

Deaglio and others suspect that police and magistrates wanted scapegoats for the murder and avoided more credible, but politically sensitive leads. Trials against other suspects are still pending, but many fear the real culprits may never be found out.