FOUR island constituents who took their lying MP to court have been awarded £5,000 towards their legal bill from the same trust that gave their opponent £50,000 towards his costs.

The Orkney Four – Tim Morrison, Fiona Grahame, Carey Welling and Phaemie Matheson – raised an action against LibDem Alistair Carmichael in what became known as the Frenchgate case after last year’s General Election.

It followed the leak of an inaccurate memo claiming Nicola Sturgeon had told the French ambassador she would prefer David Cameron to remain in Downing Street than Ed Miliband after the election.

An inquiry by the Cabinet Office found the MP had authorised his special adviser Euan Roddin to leak it to an English, Tory newspaper.

When it emerged that Carmichael had been less than truthful, his constituents took him to a rare election court sitting in Scotland, where the MP was branded a liar by Lady Paton and Lord Matthews.

The Orkney Four raised more than £200,000 from a crowdfunding initiative on to meet their costs, but there was still a shortfall when the final legal bill came in.

Carmichael’s costs were estimated at £150,000 and the York-based Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd (JRRT) caused a public outcry when it gave him £50,000.

Now, the JRRT has agreed to award the constituents – The People versus Carmichael – £5,000.

By yesterday the campaign had raised £210,170.

But the JRRT award still leaves a shortfall of £6,000 following receipt of the final legal bill.

In the award letter to The People Versus Carmichael, Tina Walker, JRRT secretary said: “I am pleased to be able to tell you that Directors have agreed to make one final grant in relation to the matter, recognising the prohibitive costs involved and have agreed to grant your request.”

A spokesperson for the constituents said: “We are very pleased that the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd has awarded us this money because it shows that it is genuinely promoting public debate and accepting that citizens have a legitimate right to challenge their MPs using due legal process and other democratic means.

“We took our MP to an Election Court to have the Orkney and Shetland result in the 2015 General Election overturned and wanted a by-election to be held, because the electorate was not in full possession of the facts before voting.

“Our case was deemed justified by the Election Court, although it failed on a legal technicality.”

The JRRT had previously tried to justify the award to Carmichael, saying: “Thanks to the perversities of the UK’s electoral system the 50 per cent of Scottish voters who supported Unionist parties at the General Election are represented by only three MPs.

“Had nationalists succeeded in their case against Alistair Carmichael, they would have worsened further the current misrepresentation of Scottish voters’ views in Parliament.

“Worse still, the effect on case-law would have been to subject many more legitimately elected Members of Parliament to the risk of personal bankruptcy in defending themselves in court against vexatious and highly political claims.”

Yesterday, however, the trust had moderated their stance, and said that all involved could agree that the system by which elections are challenged is in need of radical reform.

A JRRT spokesperson told The National: “It should be possible to enable access to the process for citizens without personal wealth, and to provide elected representatives some protection against bankruptcy in defending themselves.

“While we did not believe it was right for Alistair Carmichael to be placed in a position of personal financial ruin following a case he successfully defended, we recognise the right of the petitioners to bring that case.

“It is very unusual for the trust to offer any support for legal fees of any kind, precisely because the costs involved are so eye-watering.

“In light of the exception the trust made to Alistair Carmichael, it was reasonable to consider the Orkney Four’s application on its merits, and we have granted them the sum of £5,000 as they requested.”

They added: “This will, however, be our last grant to either side in this matter, and our usual guidelines deterring applications for legal fees stand.

“Our aim as a trust is to address problems at their root cause. Since neither citizens nor representatives – only lawyers – gain from the present system of challenging elections, the trust is open to considering applications from organisations with campaign plans for reforming the system.”