A judge has criticised police and awarded a Dunedin man $130,000 after he was cleared of sex charges following "four years of hell".
The defendant "aged in his 50s" had his name, occupation, address and family details suppressed after a jury found him not guilty on eight charges against against three girls following a trial in April last year.
While Judge Kevin Phillips said the case in relation to one of the young complainants was fairly investigated and tried by the prosecution, he was scathing about the enquiry which looked into the allegations regarding the other two.
"[It] was not conducted in a reasonable and proper manner," he said.
Counsel Jonathan Eaton QC told the court his client had spent $391,642 defending the charges.
Nearly a third of that figure had been covered by other sources and Judge Phillips ruled another third should be paid by the Crown.
The defendant said he felt vindicated by the judgement even though it meant he was more than $140,000 out of pocket and left him feeling as though he was reliving the trial.
He called it "four years of hell" and paid tribute to friends and family who had stood by him throughout the ordeal.
"The judge showed that he was able to see for himself the obvious flaws in the police process ... and summed up quite succinctly why the jury exonerated me," he said.
Eaton was highly critical of how police investigated the first two girls who came forward with sexual complaints against the man.
When officers spoke to the girls' mother and friends, rather than corroboration they received contradictory versions of events, which significantly undermined the prosecution case.
Eaton said that should have immediately resulted in police going back to the
complainants. It was a view echoed by the judge.
"In my view the failure on the part of the investigators, and with the benefit of hindsight, a serious failure, was that the two complainants were not then re-interviewed," he said.
"Each complainant's reliability and credibility were, in my view, majorly brought into question before the jury."
Police however, refused to accept mistakes had been made.
"The prosecution acted in good faith in bringing and continuing the proceedings; proper steps were taken to investigate all complainants; the investigation was conducted in a reasonable and proper manner; and the evidence as a whole was able to support a finding of guilt in respect of all charges," a spokeswoman said.
The judge described the defendant as a "person of unblemished character" who had been suspended from work for the entire time the case was before the court.
It had been a complex case and that was reflected in the costs order.
Crown prosecutor Robin Bates said the ruling was referred to Crown Law for consideration of appeal but because the awarding of costs was "a broad discretion" that was not pursued.
As dictated by the Costs in Criminal Cases Act, the $130,544 will be paid by the chief executive of the Ministry of Justice out of money appropriated by Parliament for the purpose and may be recovered as a debt due by the Crown.
Former University of Otago law professor Mark Henaghan said costs decisions, particularly for such a large sum, were rare.
"I can't remember anything like this in recent times," he said.
Henaghan said it was an important reminder of how the court was subject to checks and balances.
"Any system can get things wrong. The good thing about this is it does show the system is subject to correction if things are misjudged," he said.
The defendant said he would likely follow it up with a complaint to the Independent Police Conduct Authority.