A couple have spoken of their almost two-year nightmare after being cleared of a rape allegation.
Neil Coulson and Joanne Evans were both charged with the offence which could have seen them jailed for up to 19 years.
But after nearly two years of anguish, the couple were cleared in just two minutes when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) offered no evidence and dropped the charge.
Speaking to the Mail, the couple, of Clavering, Hartlepool, told how the damaging allegation ruined their lives.
Mum-of-three Joanne, 36, said she was forced to close her salon business, felt suicidal and the couple were visited and assessed by social services twice.
She said: “We both think rape is an absolutely monstrous, horrendous crime and for us to be accused of it was absolutely devastating.”
We both think rape is an absolutely monstrous, horrendous crime and for us to be accused of it was absolutely devastatingJoanne Evans
A woman, who cannot be named, first made the allegation in January last year.
Neil and Joanne both spent 23 hours locked up at Hartlepool Police Station and Neil was stripped and had DNA samples taken from him.
They say the case was dropped last April when police took no further action.
But a year later they say the allegation resurfaced and they were both charged. A trial had been fixed for early next year.
Joanne said: “I felt suicidal. We were shattered, broken, devastated; couldn’t believe it had happened.
“We had just had a baby, we had moved on with our lives.
“I was traumatised even though we were confident nothing was going to come of it. Our stories stayed consistent throughout.”
Joanne is on anti-depressants and did not dare leave the house, even to pick up her children from school.
She added: “I have never had a proper night’s sleep since April. But as difficult as it was, we both continued to hold our heads up high.”
Neil, 37, a multi-coded welder said: “It had a knock on effect for everyone. “I could have got sacked being branded with that kind of thing. I’ve lost out on jobs because of it.”
But their nightmare was over when they were informed last Tuesday that the charge was to be dropped and were formally found not guilty by a judge the next day.
Joanne, also mum to Danielle, 16, and baby Parker, 11 months, said: “I was just overjoyed. No words can describe.”
She praised the support of family and friends adding: “Not one single person doubted us.
“I think it is because we have been so strong and our friends and family have been so strong that’s what has got us through.”
But the couple were critical of the CPS for charging them after the case was initially dropped.
Joanne said: “In that time it ruined our lives. It was basically a whole waste of time.
“Things like this make it harder for real victims to get justice.”
Joanne and Neil say they are looking forward to Christmas now that the “awful black cloud” has been lifted from them.
Neil added: “Basically, we have just got to rebuild our lives.”
A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman said: “In all cases, it is the duty of prosecutors to ensure that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.
“Criminal cases are kept under continuous review to ensure that charges are supported by sufficient evidence.
“During a recent case review, in consultation with Prosecution Counsel, it became clear that there was not a realistic prospect of conviction.
“As a result, the decision was taken by the Crown to formally offer no evidence in this case.”