Key Points:

Legal secrecy that for two years has shrouded three historic sex cases involving past and present policemen was lifted today, revealing two of them are already in jail - for rape.

The evidence in all three trials had startling similarities, but a raft of suppression orders meant the juries never got to hear that, until now.

Suspended assistant police commissioner Clint Rickards, 46, Brad Shipton, 48, and Bob Schollum, 54, were today acquitted by a jury in the High Court at Auckland of kidnapping and indecently assaulting a 16-year-old girl between November 1983 and August 1984.

A jury decided all three men were innocent on all charges, so Mr Rickards walked free and the other two men returned to jail.

When the trial ended, the legal protection the men were afforded by the courts to ensure they had the right to a fair trial ended, allowing what was hidden to be revealed.

During the third trial jurors were told Mr Rickards, Shipton and Schollum had been acquitted in April 2006 of raping Rotorua woman Louise Nicholas in 1985 and 1986.

But due to suppression orders what they did not hear was that Shipton and Schollum are already in jail, having been convicted in July 2005 for the rape of a 20-year-old Mount Maunganui woman in 1989.

Schollum was sentenced to eight years' jail and Shipton to 8-1/2 years.

That was why Mr Rickards was the only one of the three ever filmed walking to and from this and the Nicholas trial - Schollum and Shipton arrived in prison vans.

Similarities in the evidence produced in the three trials are striking - all three alleged offences were said to have happened in the 1980s and involved group sex, the men were all in positions of authority, while the victims were young, vulnerable and afraid to speak out. All three women claimed the men used objects to violate them .

The victim of the Mt Maunganui rape claimed Shipton and Schollum assaulted her with a large object, details of which were suppressed, though they were acquitted on that charge.

Mrs Nicholas said she had been sexually abused with a police baton.

The victim from today's case said she was indecently assaulted with a bottle.

The men have denied using objects on the women, but said consensual group sex took place in the first two cases.

All three women denied any consent and have described being afraid and in pain.

After the not guilty verdict in the Nicholas case, outraged supporters distributed pamphlets revealing Shipton and Schollum had been convicted in the first trial.

They felt justice had not been done but did not know the men faced further charges and stopped distributing the pamphlets once they learned they could jeopardise any future trial.

The story so far:

Mount Maunganui - 1989

* The Allegation: Four men, including Shipton and Schollum, lure a 20-year-old woman into a hut on the pretext of a lunch date with one of the men. Once there she is bound, raped, forced to perform oral sex and violated.

* The Trial: In July 2005 Shipton, Schollum, Mt Maunganui businessman Peter Mana McNamara, 46, and Tauranga fireman Warren Graham Hales, 40, are found guilty of raping the woman.

* The Sentences: Schollum was sentenced to eight years for rape, four years for unlawful sexual connection and three years for unlawful detention, to be served concurrently.

Shipton was sentenced to 8-1/2 years for two counts of rape, three years for unlawful sexual connection and three years for unlawful detention, to be served concurrently.

McNamara got seven years for rape and three years for unlawful detention, concurrent.

Hales appealed, and was granted a retrial but instead pleaded guilty to abduction and got an 18-month jail sentence.

Nicholas Allegations, Rotorua - 1985 and 1986

* The Allegation: Mrs Nicholas claims Mr Rickards, Shipton and Schollum raped and sexually abused her, once with a police baton, while she was an 18-year-old in Rotorua in 1985 and 1986.

She could not say no to the men because they were policemen who intimidated her and she was scared of them.

The men say the sex happened but was consensual.

* The Trial: In April 2006 the men were found not guilty of all 20 charges they faced.

* The Fallout: Outraged Nicholas supporters said justice had not been done as information about Schollum and Shipton's previous rape conviction was kept from the jury. Pamphlets were distributed in Wellington and Christchurch, revealing information suppressed by the courts.

The pamphlet distributors stop once they are told the men face further charges and the pamphlets could put this at risk.

Rotorua - 1983 and 1984

* The Allegation: A woman claimed that as a 16-year-old girl she was taken screaming and struggling to a bedroom, handcuffed to a bed and indecently assaulted with a bottle by Shipton, Schollum and Mr Rickards.

* The Trial: The men are found not guilty of all charges.

* The Next Step: Mr Rickards' employment future with the police can now be addressed. Schollum and Shipton return to jail, after winning two of the three cases brought against them.