'No winners' after Roache cleared

Hampshire Chronicle: William Roache is accused of using his fame and popularity to exploit five youngsters between the mid-60s and early 70s William Roache is accused of using his fame and popularity to exploit five youngsters between the mid-60s and early 70s

Coronation Street star William Roache said he wanted to get back to work after he was cleared today of committing historic sex offences against five women.

Following his acquittal by a jury at Preston Crown Court, he refused to comment on whether the four-week trial was "a witch-hunt" but said there were "no winners" in the case.

The police force that investigated the allegations against him said it "remained committed" to such investigations and added it respected the verdicts of the jury of eight women and four men.

In a statement, Lancashire Constabulary said: "These very serious allegations were thoroughly and professionally investigated by a team of specialist detectives."

"Lancashire Constabulary worked closely with the Crown Prosecution Service from an early stage, and all the evidence was subjected to careful scrutiny before a decision was taken to charge, in the belief that there was sufficient evidence to justify a realistic prospect of conviction.

"The jury has had an opportunity over the course of the trial to hear and fully consider the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defence.

"We entirely respect the verdict reached by the jury today. The burden of proof in our system is quite rightly very high and we thank them for considering this matter so carefully.

"The constabulary remain committed to investigating allegations of this nature, no matter how historic, and would encourage anyone who has been a victim of a sexual offence to come forward safe in the knowledge that they will be treated sensitively and professionally."

Roache, 81, who plays Ken Barlow in the ITV soap, was found not guilty of two counts of rape and four counts of indecent assault.

Speaking on the steps of the court, he said: "I have just got one thing to say, in these situations there are no winners and I think we should all be much kinder to ourselves. Now if you will excuse me I would like to get back to work."

Several members of the jury that had taken just short of six hours to clear him of the allegations watched as Roache read out a statement to the media.

He thanked his employers, ITV Granada, his legal team, family, friends and colleagues for their support - as well as those people he did not know who had wished him well.

An ITV spokesman said: "We look forward to talking to Bill soon about his return to work."

Roache, wearing a blue suit and the same blue-and-white patterned tie he had worn for every day of the trial, showed no reaction as the foreman read out the verdicts.

When the last one was delivered, the months of strain overcame his family in the front row of the public gallery as his younger son James dissolved into tears with a hand over his face, his elder son Linus wiped away tears and his younger daughter Verity was hugged by her boyfriend before she also began to weep.

One of Roache's minders sprang to his feet and shouted "Yes!" and began to clap before the judge told him to be quiet.

Roache then left the dock and walked to the door of the courtroom where he was embraced in a bear-hug by his minder and for the first time he smiled broadly.

He then went into a nearby side room which he and his legal team have used during the four-week trial.

Shortly after, Roache's family left court and each entered the room to hugs and smiles from their father, including hugs shared with his legal team.

The Coronation Street veteran was alleged by the Crown to have used his fame and popularity to exploit the "starstruck" girls, aged 16 and under, between the mid-60s and early-70s.

The women told jurors they were sexually abused by the defendant either at Granada Studios in Manchester, in his car or at properties he owned.

He was said to have raped one complainant at his then bungalow in Lancashire when she was a 15-year-old virgin and she said he raped her again in an adjoining cottage he owned.

Three of the indecent assaults were alleged to have taken place inside Granada Studios - in the gents toilets, ladies toilets and a dressing room - while the fourth was said to have happened in his Rolls-Royce when he gave a lift home to a complainant.

But Roache told the jury he had no knowledge of any of the women and the alleged abuse simply did not happen.

Roache said he was "astounded" and "horrified" at his arrest on suspicion of rape at his home in Wilmslow, Cheshire, on May 1 last year. ITV announced he would not appear in the programme until legal proceedings were concluded.

The widespread publicity of the arrest led to four other women coming forward to allege they too had been victims in the same era.

Roache was arrested again last June and then charged with five counts of indecent assault. But the world's longest-serving soap actor - who has appeared in Coronation Street since its 1960 launch - told the jury that sexual abuse was not in his "nature" and he had no interest in under-age girls.

During the trial, the prosecution offered no evidence on one of the indecent assault counts after the complainant admitted in evidence she had "no actual memory" of the alleged episode.

Louise Blackwell QC, defending, said the whole case against her client was "nonsense", with the trial haunted by the "spectre" of Jimmy Savile.

Nazir Afzal, chief crown prosecutor for CPS North West, said: "When serious allegations are made and the evidence in a case passes the prosecution test it is right that a jury considers the evidence.

"That is the way our legal system works, the prosecution decides that there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction whereas the jury must decide the case is proved beyond all reasonable doubt.

"When a jury delivers a verdict, no matter what it is, that is justice being done.

"We have a duty to those who make complaints of serious offences to listen to the allegations, and assess the evidence against the same evidential standards we use for all criminal cases, no matter who makes the complaint, or who the complaint is against.

"This case was treated like any other - what mattered were the allegations and the evidence and nothing else, and we fully respect the decisions of the jury and thank them for their careful deliberation."

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