A PRIEST who was cleared of sexually abusing two young boys in Bury has said the "scars" of his ordeal will never go away.

Father John McCollough (63) spoke of his relief after being found not guilty but also of the stress and heartache of being arrested, charged and standing trial.

Mr McCollough had been accused of performing sex acts with young boys while he was an Anglican rector at Christ of King with Holy Trinity Church in Spring Street during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

At Bolton Crown Court on Friday, he was cleared of 11 counts of indecent assault and one count of gross indecency against a child.

Speaking from his home in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, Mr McCollough said: "The whole thing must have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to the taxpayer.

"As for me, as soon as the allegations were made I was put on administrative leave so I've lost all my income and have ended up losing thousand of pounds.

"It has left me feeling as though I've been kicked by a cow. I don't think the scars from this will ever heal.

"I felt as though there had been this huge cloud hanging over my head for the last 18 months. It's been awful, the whole thing has been incredibly harrowing.

"After my address was first published I was afraid to put my head around the door because I didn't know what was going to happen."

Mr McCollough had been on administrative leave from St Vincent's Church, Dagenham, since the allegations came to light.

He said: "I'm not sure what I'm going to do now, it's something that I will be discussing with the Bishop of Brentwood, but I know there is a new parish priest at St Vincent's. I was just getting myself established there. I don't think I will be able to take up a parish anywhere for some time.

"It will be a gradual reintroduction. What I will probably do is cover for other priests when they're on holiday.

"I've had a lot of support from people that know me. It has been a tremendous comfort to have those people that really know me vouch for me."