CHEERS from the public gallery greeted the jury's decision to clear Catholic priest John McCollough of allegations that he sexually abused two boys.

The 63-year-old had been accused of preying on the youngsters during his stint as minister at Christ the King with Holy Trinity Church more than 15 years ago.

But after a two-week trial at Bolton Crown Court he was found not guilty of 11 counts of indecent assault and one charge of gross indecency.

Both youngsters, now adults, claimed he had abused them by touching them, attempting to kiss them and performing sexual acts with the duo.

During the trial Father McCollough admitted taking both boys on trips to London and even allowing one of the boys to sleep over at the vicarage. However, he strenuously denied sexually abusing the pair and said the alleged victims had colluded and were making the allegations to get compensation.

At 3.45pm on Friday, the jury of seven men and five women returned not guilty verdicts to the cheers of Father McCollough's friends who were sat in the public gallery.

Speaking moments after his acquittal, Father McCollough told the Bury Times: "I am extremely relieved. At the end of the film U.S. Marshals, Wesley Snipes was asked the same question "how do you feel?", and his response was "righteous".

The priest refused to comment on his accusers.

However, the godmother of one of the boys - also a friend of the other alleged victim - slammed the pair for attempting to destroy the priest.

She said: "I am disappointed and feel sorry for them. You have got to be evil to make up such allegations against such a kind and caring man. I am just relieved that justice has been done."

Father McCollough, now of Lymington Avenue, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, worked as an Anglican rector in Bury between 1985 and 1995 but converted to Catholicism in protest at the Church of England's decision to allow women to be ordained as priests.

Prior to the sex abuse allegations being made to Bury police in 2006, he was the priest at St Vincent's Church in Dagenham but was put on administrative leave pending the outcome of the trial.