In their roles as clergy, husband and wife Peter and Jenny Lister are used to comforting and counselling others. Nothing however could have prepared them for their own nightmare, as they told Emma Pinch...
As the husband-and-wife vicars of Yoxall in Staffordshire, the Rev Peter and Jenny Lister have become used to the glare of publicity.
The Rev Jenny Lister is rector of the church where a grave was desecrated in October last year, making headlines all over the world.
But nothing could have prepared them for the ordeal when, a year ago, Mr Lister was accused of having sexually assaulted a boy two decades ago when he worked in Northumberland.
For nine months the cloud of suspicion hovered over him. Mr Lister, aged 63, was suspended from his post as director of education for Lichfield Diocese and compelled to give up his priestly duties.
On the first day of his hearing at Newcastle Crown Court on Monday last week, the case was dropped by the prosecution because it said there was no realistic prospect of conviction.
Yesterday, in a gracious white-walled study at the diocesan offices in St Mary's House at Lichfield Cathedral, Mr Lister - who is expected to be reinstated in his former role - described how his ordeal began last February, three months after the alleged victim contacted police.
"I was just working in my office doing day- to- day administration when the officers called," he recalled quietly.
"They told me they were here as part of an investigation into a very serious matter to do with child abuse and indicated that they wanted to take me away.
"I was shocked and astonished. I didn't know what it was about."
His wife was equally bewildered. "Towards the end of the morning I got a call saying 'it's Burton Police here'. I thought it was to do with the grave desecration. Instead they said, 'we've got your husband here, we've arrested your husband'. I wondered what on Earth was going on; I thought it must be a motoring offence. Then they told me and I was just gobsmacked. I was so stunned I couldn't think of anything."
After being questioned, Mr Lister was released on police bail for three months.
"I asked him lots of questions," said his wife. "You don't know, you trust somebody, but you still wonder, could it have been?"
Those three months of limbo were the hardest for the couple, unsure of what lay ahead and unable to tell people what was happening.
"It was almost like a deception," said Mrs Lister. "Peter was off work and under a lot of stress and people would ask if he was any better, and I couldn't say what was wrong with him.
"I was already pulled down through the grave desecration. That had taken its toll, although what we went through is nothing compared to what that family have had to deal with.
"The papers would call him 'Lister', no Christian name. That's what I found the hardest."
At their Yoxall vicarage they received a mountain of postcards, letters and prayers of support from people in the village.
By the time of last week's hearing, they were ready to face whatever was thrown at them.
"We slept like logs the night before" said Mr Lister. "We had gone up to Newcastle on the Sunday and we were very calm the next morning, totally relaxed and aware of the huge number of people praying for us."
When told the charge was withdrawn: "It was a huge relief. Disbelief really." "There must be a better way of doing these cases I think," added Mr Lister.
"The prosecution case and the defence case are not looked at together until the trial day. If there was a better way of reviewing these things it might have saved a lot of time and money.
"I'm angry at the huge stress it has caused, particularly on my wife. I'm not angry at the man who made the allegation - I'm very sorry for him. He needs a lot of help and support and I don't know if he will get it."
The experience has left them with the sense that their marital partnership has weathered one of the toughest tests there is.
"In a strange way, it's brought us closer together," said Mrs Lister.