Police 'witch hunt' criticised as former school master is cleared of abuse

The case against a former approved school housemaster accused of sexual abuse was thrown out by a judge today - amid stinging criticism of police investigators.

Roderick Ryall's legal team argued he had been subject to a "witch hunt" by police and alleged victims seeking to take advantage of his past convictions for child abuse.

Walking free from Teesside Crown Court, the 68-year-old condemned police handling of the case.

He was alleged to have abused two teenage pupils at Aycliffe Approved School, in County Durham, in the mid-to-late 1960s.

He was also accused of molesting a nine-year-old cub scout in the mid-1970s when he was director of social services in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

But Mr Ryall's barrister, Tania Griffiths QC, said the complainants had used knowledge of sex offence convictions from 1988 to "jump on a bandwagon" to win compensation.

She branded the latest investigation, by Durham Police, as a farce from start to finish - an accusation that was denied.

She said: "This has been a witch hunt. It has been a trawling exercise, and it is quite unforgivable."

Outside court, his solicitor Chris Saltrese said investigators were relying on the jury's prejudice against a convicted sex offender to win the case.

Mr Ryall had described the charges made against him as "complete and utter rubbish".

Directing the jury of eight women and four men to return not guilty verdicts after they heard two weeks of evidence, Judge George Moorhouse said it had been impossible for Mr Ryall to receive a fair trial.

He said: "I have had submissions made to me to the effect that it is an abuse of process to proceed further with this trial, as a result of which there has been a great amount of publicity.

"I have concluded it would be an abuse of process to proceed further.

"It is clear that the officers conducting the investigation have not conducted themselves in a proper way."

He said an internet search using the keywords 'Ryall 2010' had produced 16,700 hits, including one directing browsers to a Leeds solicitors' website inviting people to make compensation claims against Mr Ryall.

Speaking on Mr Ryall's behalf after he was cleared, Mr Saltrese said: "Our case was that the allegations were complete fabrications.

"The real story in the case was the laziness and incompetence of the police investigation.

"They have simply sought to rely on Mr Ryall's previous convictions and the prejudice that invokes with members of the jury.

"Rather than investigate the matter properly they presented three complainants of extremely poor quality."

Mr Ryall, of Wheatley Drive, Mirfield, West Yorkshire, had denied ten counts of indecent assault on three alleged victims.

The jury has been told that Mr Ryall, who graduated from both Oxford and Cambridge universities, had previous convictions for abusing young people.

In 1988, at Leeds Crown Court, he admitted four offences of indecent assault, two of gross indecency and a charge of buggery.