A CONVICT who wrongly served 21 years in prison for the rape and murder of two young girls has been cleared of his crimes.
Viggo Kristiansen, now 43, was falsely convicted of the slaughter of eight-year-old Stine Sofie Sorstronen and Lena Slogedal Paulsen, 10.
The dropping of the charges, following a re-examination of the evidence, has been branded one of Norway's "most serious miscarriages of justice".
Stine and Lena's bodies were found dead after they went swimming in a lake in a wooded area in the south of the country.
On the day of their murders on May 19, 2000, the two girls had gone to visit their fathers, who lived in the same block of flats close to the woods where the lake was.
Kristiansen was sentenced by two different courts in 2001 and 2002 to a maximum possible sentence of 21 years with the option to extend.
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A court at the time heard that Kristiansen had lured the pair away into a secluded area while pretending to be looking for lost kittens.
The verdict claimed that Kristiansen had raped the girls before stabbing them both in the chest and neck.
Their naked bodies were found covered with leaves and hidden between two large rocks, while their blood-soaked swimsuits were stuffed in a nearby muddy drainpipe.
He was purportedly helped by his co-defendant Jan Helge Andersen, who told the court at the time that Kristiansen was the main perpetrator.
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But the new investigations reportedly indicate that Kristiansen wasn't involved at all and that the crimes were solely the work of Andersen.
The gruesome nature of the killings sent shockwaves throughout Norway, where such violent crimes are highly unusual.
But when the case was reopened last year, Andersen's testimony was discredited, after DNA evidence was shown not to support his insistence that multiple people had been involved in the murders.
The new report also noted that Kristiansen's phone was well away from the scene of the crime at the time he was alleged to have carried out the murders.
Attorney General Jon Sigurd Maurud told reporters: "The case has had profoundly tragic consequences, especially for Kristiansen – who has served more than 20 years in prison and has thus been deprived of large parts of his life – and for his relatives.
"I, therefore, want, on behalf of the prosecution, to offer my sincerest apologies for the injustice that has been inflicted."
This is what we have been waiting for for 20 years
Norwegian police forces who carried out the investigation at the time also apologised.
Kristiansen's father, Svein Kristiansen, gave an emotional statement after learning of his son's innocence.
He told the Norwegian publication VG: "This is what we have been waiting for for 20 years. Finally, we believe in what we have stood for all along.
"It is just a great pleasure. Finally, we can go ahead with getting Viggo into society," he added.
Kristiansen was released from prison last year and may be eligible to request compensation of more than 30 million Norwegian Kroner (£2.5m) from the state, according to his lawyer.
"If the court of appeal announces an acquittal, this will be one of the biggest legal scandals in Norwegian history," Justice Emilie Enger Mehl told reporters.
Andersen, who received a lighter jail sentence of 19 years for cooperating with investigators at the time, now faces further probes into his actions, the prosecutor added.
It comes after Stine's brother Kristoffer spoke publicly for the first time about his sister's murder.
He told Norwegian TV channel NRK that he had been wracked with guilt about his sister's death for more than two decades, explaining that he was meant to go swimming with the two girls on the day they vanished.
But instead, he had gone home to build a new computer with his father, telling the girls to go swimming alone.
The way police handled their investigations into the "Banaheia Murders" was criticised at the time, after it was found cops applied controversial suggestive question techniques, holding "informal conversations" with Andersen before his lawyer arrived.
During this time, the interrogator told Andersen that police "knew" there was more than one perpetrator in the murders and suggested to him that Kristiansen may have been involved.
FBI agent Gregg McCrary testified in court in 2011 and said about the police's interview technique: "It's a very alarming way to interrogate a witness. The police must never give the name of possible perpetrators or ask leading questions"
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He added that it seemed obvious that Andersen had been "guided" into implicating Kristiansen since his testimony changed from interrogation to interrogation.
Gisli Gudjonsson, a Professor of Forensic Psychology at King's College London, also wrote in his report that the initial police interrogator "most likely ruined the case".
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