A JUDGE has ruled that the Crown Prosecution Service must pay almost £157,000 of the legal costs of three Royal Agricultural University students who were wrongly accused of a gang rape.

At Gloucester Crown Court, Judge Ian Lawrie QC said the CPS must pay £156,939.71 in total to the lawyers for Patrick Foster, Leo Mahon and Blunsdon man Thady Duff, who had been accused of raping a woman after the prestigious Cirencester university’s May Ball in May 2014.

Together with a fourth defendant, James Martin – who was legally aided – they were acquitted on a judge’s direction in 2016 after it was revealed a policeman had not made full disclosures about the alleged victim’s promiscuous sexual history and her behaviour on the night of the incident.

Following the trial, the judge ruled that the prosecution must pay 75 per cent of the defence costs incurred by the families of Foster, Mahon and Duff and he left that figure to be assessed.

Yesterday the lawyers gathered again at Gloucester crown court for Judge Lawrie – who has replaced the now retired trial judge Jamie Tabor QC – to formally announce the amount that must be paid.

Fiona Elder, prosecuting, said: “A court order is required for payment to be made.

“The final assessment is for this court to deal with.

“An appeal was lodged by the defence counsel about the amount, but this hearing was abandoned and we have been trying to get back to court ever since to secure a formal order.

“It seems that there was a dispute over the figure by the relevant parties in this case.”

Danny Moore, for the three men – who were not present at court – said: “The court is not obliged to accept the final assessment. But Judge Tabor made it quite clear that he expected the assessment to be settled in full.”

After Judge Lawrie made the order Ms Elder added: “The advocates need to send an invoice of that amount to the Crown Prosecution Service.”

After the trial’s collapse in 2016 Judge Tabor had criticised the police and prosecution handling of the case.

He ruled that if full details about the alleged rape victim’s past promiscuous sexual behaviour had been investigated and revealed by the officer in the case, Det Con Ben Lewis, the students would probably not even have been charged.

Detective Constable Lewis had been accused by defence lawyers of ‘vandalising’ the case by not making full disclosures about the woman’s sexual past.

It was clear, said the judge, that the officer had become a ‘confidante’ of the alleged victim.

The officer knew about her ‘sexual predelictions’ and even that she had sent naked photographs of herself to one of the defendants but he made only minimal notes about that and did not disclose it, the judge said.

The students had claimed the woman was a willing sex partner at the time of the alleged rapes after the May Ball in 2014.

Evidence about her having three-in-a-bed sex with one soldier and intercourse with another soldier on the same night in October 2013 was also a key factor in the case.

Mr Duff, then 22, of Stubbs Hill Farm, Blunsdon, Swindon, Mr Mahon, then 21, of Lawrence Road, Cirencester, Mr Foster, 22, of Lawrence Road, Cirencester, and Mr Martin, 20, of Hook Norton Road, Swerford, Chipping Norton, were all to have stood trial on 11 rape and sex assault charges.

All four were formally cleared on the judge’s direction when the prosecution dropped the case after the defence team checked mobile phone records of the night of the incident – and details of a rape case against a soldier whom the woman had slept with six months earlier.

Judge Tabor said he found that Det Con Lewis and the Crown Prosecution Service were jointly to blame for the non-disclosure of important evidence about the woman’s sexual past as well as her behaviour on the night of the alleged rapes.

In June 2017, the Independent Police Complaints Commission cleared Det Con Lewis of misconduct.

But the Commission said the officer’s behaviour may be regarded as ‘unsatisfactory performance.’

“During the course of the investigation evidence was found that indicated DC Lewis may have inappropriately disclosed detail about material found on a defendant’s phone to the complainant,” the Commission said.

“In the IPCC investigator’s opinion, while there was no case to answer for misconduct, these actions could amount to unsatisfactory performance. The force agreed and will deal with the matter through management action.

“Two specific recommendations have been identified for Gloucestershire Constabulary as a result of the independent investigation, which the force have agreed to implement.

“These are, first, that Gloucestershire establish formal guidance concerning the analysis of mobile phone evidence, and second that officers and staff are made aware of the processes which need to take place when seeking disclosure material from a third party.”

The Royal Agricultural University’s annual Summer Ball is held in late May to mark end-of-year exams.

The University is known as the ‘Oxbridge of the Countryside’ and the sons and daughters of many of Britain’s biggest landowners are among its 1,200 students. The patron is Prince Charles and one of its former students is Captain Mark Phillips, former husband of Princess Anne.