TWO ex-friends have both been cleared of raping a Burnley schoolgirl decades ago.

John Pye, now 56, and Paul Harrold, now 54, were yesterday acquitted of all sex charges against them by a jury at the town's crown court, after a trial lasting more than three weeks.

Pye, of Saxon Street, Burnley, had also been accused of raping a woman in 1993 and was found not guilty of that allegation as well.

Pye had been charged with and had denied three counts of rape, five allegations of indecent assault and one count of indecency with a child, said to have taken place between June 1976 and June 1982, against the girl, and rape of the woman.

Harrold, of Craven Street, Barnoldswick, had been accused of and pleaded not guilty to one count of rape, said to have taken place between June 1976 and June 1980.

The defendants, who Pye had claimed were former business partners, were discharged from the dock by Judge Robert Altham. Neither had given evidence in the case. Both are of good character.

The prosecution had claimed the first alleged victim, now in her forties, had 'endured years of abuse at the hands of John Pye and his associates.'

The complainant was said to have met Pye when she was playing out when she was seven or eight and he was alleged to have introduced her to drugs and alcohol and physically and sexually abused her.

Harrold was said to have raped the alleged victim once.

The jury had been told that when Pye was arrested and questioned by the police he denied the allegations involving the first alleged victim and said he thought she was a lesbian.

The defendant had a serious motorbike accident in 1977/78.

Pye denied to officers he had ever smoked cannabis or drunk alcohol with the complainant as he didn't think he was drinking after the accident.

He accepted he knew Harrold, claimed they had in the past been business partners, but said the friendship had come to an end when he was in intensive care.

Pye denied to the police he had raped the woman and claimed they had a consensual relationship.

The hearing was told when Harrold was questioned, he told police he had met the alleged victim when he was about 20 after she had turned up at the garage he owned.

He said his friendship with Pye had deteriorated after the motorbike accident.

He denied he had ever been in a business partnership with Pye. Harrold told officers he had never had any sexual contact with the complainant.