THREE men convicted of subjecting two young girls to years of sexual abuse have been cleared by the Court of Appeal.

The men, from Gravesend, were jailed at Maidstone Crown Court in 1996 for what the trial judge called "a catalogue of the gravest sexual offences possible to imagine".

But Paul Frost-Smith, Ernest Bond and Barry Cook had their convictions quashed on November 28 after doubts were cast on the reliability of one of their alleged victims.

The prosecution's case at the original trial was that the girls were abused while their middle-aged tormentors watched pornographic videos.

Both girls, referred to as J and C, claimed they were repeatedly gang-raped between 1991 and 1995.

Lord Justice Potter said: "We have no doubts both girls have been victims of widespread abuse within what is highly likely to have been a paedophile ring."

But after the original trial, J made numerous fresh abuse allegations and the judge accepted it was improbable all were true.

Frost-Smith, then aged 42, of Palmer Avenue, was jailed for 12 years in 1996.

Bond, then aged 57, of Silver Road, got six years and Cook, then aged 42, of Valley Drive, received an eight-year sentence.

Richard Maguire, then aged 56, of Christian Fields Avenue, Gravesend, was said to be the instigator of the abuse and did not appeal against his 12-year sentence.

J made numerous allegations against 18 people weeks after the original trial but no further charges were brought.

Bond's case was referred to the Court of Appeal by the criminal cases review commission and appeals by Frost-Smith and Cook followed.

Lord Justice Potter said it was the commission's view the large number of allegations made by J since the trial cast doubt on her credibility and she may have included innocent men in her claims.

Lawyers for the three men argued serious questions had been raised about whether J had correctly identified her abusers. They said as a "distressed and abused child" exposed to "a world of sexual laxity and pornographic videos", the girl may have wrongly named men she "disliked or feared" as abusers.

Lord Justice Potter declared the three men's convictions unsafe and said a retrial would be inappropriate because of time already served.