London - A trial of a young man accused of rape has dramatically collapsed after it emerged that police had not examined 30,000 Facebook messages linked to the alleged victim.
It is the latest in a series of scandals in which defence lawyers in sex cases have allegedly been unable to access vital evidence that could help clear their client.
The man, named only as Cameron, had been accused of rape and five counts of sex with a girl under 16. He was 19 when he was charged, in 2015.
He had met the alleged victim, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, through Facebook.
The trial collapsed in January and on Monday the Crown Prosecution Service conceded there would be no reasonable prospect of a conviction. The young man was on Monday found not guilty by Judge David Ticehurst in a brief hearing at Taunton Crown Court.
It came after police admitted the alleged victim’s Facebook account contained 30 000 messages which had never been properly investigated. They were only found in a review of the case by Avon and Somerset Police.
Last night, Channel 4 News reported that efforts to get the prosecution to disclose them all were ‘stonewalled’.
Police and prosecutors have a duty to disclose evidence that might either assist the defence case or undermine the prosecution’s case. But a series of recent scandals have involved claims that this failed to take place.
After delivering his verdict, Judge Ticehurst reportedly described the young man’s ordeal as "another example of these nondisclosure cases".
Last night, Cameron told Channel 4 News he lost his job as a result of the allegations and spent a torturous three years waiting for his name to be cleared. He said: "I’m still shocked but also [feel] relief, that... I can actually now move on with my life.
"I’ve been waiting for almost two years and nine months now to actually have this resolved and all this time I’ve known I was innocent but the whole time I’ve felt like I’ve been treated like I was guilty until I was proved innocent.
"It opened my eyes up to a whole new world of what’s wrong with the whole system. It was shocking to find they could miss something that large."
Asked if he ever had sex with the girl, he said: "I did not, no, not even, no sexual contact at all with the person and that again baffled me as to why these allegations were being made."
"I’d never had that sort of contact with her. It worries me that this has happened before and ... people have gone to prison that were innocent."
His defence solicitor Ian Kelcey told Channel 4 News: "I believe our criminal justice system is in a state of utter collapse. We are running Russian Roulette with defendants going to court and not knowing whether the matter has been robustly investigated or not. That is simply not right." He added: "The CPS had only seen four of the total 30 000 messages. They claim the complainant only handed them over late in the day. In my opinion, I don’t think they ever asked for them."
The number of prosecutions that have collapsed due to disclosure errors has soared by 70 per cent in the past two years.
In December, student Liam Allen’s trial collapsed after texts emerged from the alleged victim in which she told a friend the sex "wasn’t against my will".
In January, Oxford student Oliver Mears, 19, was cleared of rape after spending two years on bail, with police facing fierce criticism for the delay in handing over evidence.
In the same month, the CPS said they were reviewing every rape and serious sexual assault case in England and Wales, after a series of collapsed trials.
They led to accusations that Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders was "more interested in convictions than in people being tried fairly".
Last month she announced she would be standing down after the Government declined to extend her contract.
Avon and Somerset police and the CPS told Channel 4 news it was only during a review of the case in January that the complainant disclosed additional evidence to them.
A CPS spokesman said: "Further evidence was provided to the police by the complainant. The trial was adjourned so this further evidence could be investigated by the police. This material had not previously been seen by either the police or the prosecution.
"Following a review of the new evidence, it was determined there was no longer a realistic prospect of conviction."