TWO men accused of a £500,000 drugs conspiracy have been cleared after a judge decided there were “shortcomings” in the police investigation.

Mark Johnson, of Weymann Terrace, Cowley, and Michael Krah, of Stowford Road, Barton, Oxford, walked free from Oxford Crown Court on Tuesday.

They were found not guilty of conspiracy to supply heroin, cocaine and cannabis after Judge Gordon Risius ruled there was no case to answer.

The drugs were discovered wrapped in black plastic bags by landlord Raymond Duckett and hidden inside his empty rental flat in Reliance Way, Cowley, in 2010.

Fingerprints from the defendants were found on the bags and 36-year-old Krah’s DNA was inside a leather glove discovered with the drugs.

But after the prosecution case was completed last Friday, an application was made to have the trial stopped, on the grounds the evidence was not strong enough.

Adrian Langdale, defending, described the police investigation as “shambolic” and criticised the handling of the drugs, the lack of photos or notes taken by officers, and the failure to properly investigate mobile phone records.

Delivering his ruling, Judge Risius said not all of the points raised by the defence were reasonable, but that “a number of shortcomings” had been revealed.

He said: “I have come to the conclusion that, taken together, the defence submissions have some force.

“The lifestyle and telephone evidence in particular seems to me to be weak, and there are simply too many question-marks over the forensic evidence and the basis for it to be simply left to the jury.

“I have therefore decided that on the evidence as it currently stands, the jury, appropriately directed, could not properly decide that these two defendants knew what was being planned and decided to join in, intending that the plan should be carried out.

“In consequence, the jury could not in my judgement properly return verdicts of guilty.”

Judge Risius said it was understandable that Mr Duckett had not realised that without “meticulous handling” of the drugs, a police investigation would become more difficult.

He also said the first two officers called could be “forgiven for handling everything in a practical, common-sense way”.

Judge Risius also described the case as depending “entirely on circumstantial evidence”.

A spokesman for Thames and Chiltern Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: “When reviewed under the Code for Crown Prosecutors, it was deemed there was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and it was in the public interest to prosecute.

“Due to the complexity of the case, regular review meetings were held between the reviewing lawyer, counsel and the police.

“We will look carefully at the case and consider what we can learn from this.”

Thames Valley Police spokesman Chris Kearney said: “Due to the unique circumstances around this particular case, there are learning points that we will now review.”