A clergyman was yesterday cleared of sexually abusing a 10-year-old street child during a charity trip in South Africa.

Father Tony Hogg, 52, was said to be "simply thankful" the charge of indecent assault against him had been dropped by prosecutors in Cape Town and will be returning to his parish near Wantage later this week.

The priest, vicar of Hanney, Denchworth and East Challow since 1991, had faced angry protests outside court and was attacked by street children at one appearance.

He needed a police escort again when he appeared before magistrates yesterday.

Father Hogg was told of the prosecution's decision to drop the case at Cape Town Magistrates' Court, but no reason was given for the withdrawal of charges.

The priest's advocate, William King, said his client was "simply thankful the ordeal was over".

Mr King accused two local newspapers of "sensationalising the trial" and stoking up public violence.

Following the allegation, Father Hogg was suspended from his duties after being released on bail on May 2. He was first arrested in April.

Parish curate Father Stephen James took over from Father Hogg, at the request of the Bishop of Reading, Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell.

Oxford Diocese spokesman Sarah Meyrick said the priest had telephoned the Rt Rev Stephen Cottrell as soon as he was cleared.

She added: "Once he is back on British soil, he will come to see the Bishop and it should be quite straightforward in terms of him returning to his duties.

"There was a strong indication that the judge was going to drop the charges and that was ratified yesterday.

"This must be a tremendous relief for Father Tony because this has been hanging over him for quite a while."

Church warden Eric Woodhouse added: "I spoke to Tony this morning and it is a relief and joy to all of us that he has been cleared.

"Everyone in the parish likes him a lot and he had everyone's support through all this. No-one said a bad word against him. It's tragic he has had to endure this."

Fellow church warden Stuart Cakebread said: "Tony has had enormous support and there will be a huge sigh of relief. We look forward to seeing him."

Jane Painton, the chairman of governors at St James Church of England Primary School in West Hanney, said: "I'm delighted. I never thought there was a case against him."