VANCOUVER - A British Columbia man wrongfully convicted of sexual assault has been awarded $8 million by a court after spending 27 years behind bars.

Ivan Henry, 70, sued the City of Vancouver, the province and the federal government after he was acquitted in 2010 of 10 sexual assault convictions.

In a ruling released Wednesday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Christopher Hinkson criticized the Crown's decision to hold back information that Henry was entitled to receive.

“Crown counsel's wrongful non-disclosure seriously infringed Mr. Henry's right to a fair trial, and demonstrates a shocking disregard for his rights,” Hinkson wrote in the 130-page decision.

“If Mr. Henry had received the disclosure to which he was entitled, the likely result would have been his acquittal at his 1983 trial.”

The judge outlined a series of police notes, reports, lab information, interviews, witness statements, and Vancouver police property and exhibits that wasn't disclosed to Henry before or during his trial.

The Crown also didn't tell Henry or his lawyer that a police detective thought the wrong person was charged with the assault of one of the victims, says the decision.

“Much of what was in the possession of the provincial Crown counsel by the time of Mr. Henry's trial was never disclosed to him or his lawyers prior to the dismissal of his conviction and sentence appeals, nor were copies of these documents provided to him,” Hinkson says in his ruling.

The judge says material information and evidence was intentionally withheld from Henry, and that jeopardized his ability to defend himself.

Crown lawyer John Hunter argued that Henry's decision to represent himself during the original trial should disqualify him from receiving millions of dollars in damages because it would send the wrong message.

Henry's lawyer, John Laxton, argued that his client deserved as much as $43 million in compensation.

Wednesday's ruling awarded Henry $530,000 for having his Charter rights infringed, $56,700 in special damages and $7.5 million for “vindication and deterrence.”

Attorney General Suzanne Anton said the Justice Ministry will review the decision in the weeks ahead.

“It is important to recognize that Canadian law on disclosure has undergone significant developments since Mr.Henry's criminal trial in 1982,” she said in a statement. “The legal obligations for police and prosecutors in making disclosure to the defence are now much more robust and clearly defined.”

Previous settlements 

After his acquittal six years ago, Henry still struggled to prove his innocence. He was hounded by neighbours at his North Vancouver home, and the Vancouver Police Department claimed he was guilty until last year.

The City of Vancouver and the federal government settled for their roles in botching the investigation and refusing to consider Henry’s appeals, but the B.C. government fought on, arguing its prosecutors were right to withhold evidence from the accused.

They also allowed the jury to see a photo that has now becoming infamous: Henry, struggling in a headlock in a police lineup while officers were laughing.

A CTV/W5 investigation found that victims who had initially failed to identify Henry or been tentative became more convinced it was him after being exposed to the lineup, that photo, and another photo of Henry in a jail cell. 

No physical evidence was presented at trial, though it was collected at the scene. Since then the evidence was lost – signs of a cover-up at the VPD that has never resulted in charges or discipline.

Henry’s initial appeal to the B.C. Court of Appeal was dismissed for want of prosecution as he failed to come up with the $4,000 he needed to pay for trial transcripts.

Hope emerged as an RCMP/VPD joint task force investigating the serial killings of Robert Pickton uncovered a group of similar sex assaults, and found they bore a striking resemblance to the ones Henry was convicted of – even though Henry was in jail.

That prompted a review of the case by a special prosecutor, and convictions in three later cases of a Vancouver plumber named Don McRae, a peeping tom who lived across the street from Henry and bore a slight resemblance to him.

Ironically, the province settled with Don McRae, giving him $5000 for a fall in prison, but refused to settle with Henry. 

With files from CTV Vancouver's Jon Woodward