Coronation St star not guilty of sexual assault

Last updated 09:01 07/02/2014
William Roache
Reuters

IN THE CLEAR: William Roache leaves court, found not guilty of all charges.

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William Roache is set to reprise his role as Ken Barlow on Coronation St after being cleared of multiple charges of sexual assault against young girls.

A jury at Britain's Preston Crown Court found 81-year-old William Roache, who plays Ken Barlow on the show, not guilty of four counts of indecent assault and two counts of rape.

Outside court, Roache said he wanted to get back to work and Coronation St broadcaster ITV said it looked forward to talking to Roache about a return to the show.

Five women had accused Roache of assaulting them between 1965 and 1971, when they were aged 16 or under. Prosecutors had argued that Roache took advantage of his fame to abuse star-struck girls and then keep them from speaking out.

But Roache said he did not know the women accusing him and had never assaulted anyone.

"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," Roache said as he left court surrounded by his family.

Roache was one of several veteran UK show business figures arrested after revelations that the late BBC entertainer Jimmy Savile was a serial sexual predator who abused scores of young people over several decades.

Defence lawyer Louise Blackwell told the court that Roache was an innocent man swept up in the wake of the Savile scandal.

In a statement, Lancashire police said it pursued the case because there was "sufficient evidence to justify a realistic prospect of conviction".

The force said: "These very serious allegations were thoroughly and professionally investigated by a team of specialist detectives ... 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.

"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."

Police would continue to investigate sex abuse allegations no matter how historic, the force said.

Rape Crisis said false accusations of rape were extremely rare and called for sensitivity in news reports.

Coronation Street, set in a fictional working-class district in northwestern England, is among the longest-running programmes on British and New Zealand television and Roache has played the much-married Barlow since its first episode in 1960.

He hasn't appeared in the soap since April 2013, when Deirdre announced that Ken had taken an impromptu holiday.

In a statement, Coronation Street broadcaster ITV said: "We look forward to talking to Bill soon about his return to work."

Coronation St stars tweeted their delight at the news.

Bev Callard, who plays Liz McDonald, wrote: "Ken, there's a pint waiting for you in The Rovers".

RAPE CRISIS: FALSE ACCUSATIONS 'VERY RARE'

Rape Crisis England and Wales called for responsible reporting of the verdict.

They issued a joint statement with the End Violence Against Women Coalition which said:

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“We implore news reporters, editors and media commentators to cover this news responsibly and to bear in mind when discussing it that many survivors of rape and other forms of sexual violence are among your audience.

“The implicit message of commentary on previous cases has been that women routinely lie and that false accusations of rape are common.

"They are not, as demonstrated by a Crown Prosecution Service report published last year, which concluded that so-called false allegations of rape are ‘very rare’."

The statement went on to say 85,000 women were raped in England and Wales every year but only 15 per cent were reported to police.

“It is our experience that acquittals of high profile men are commonly followed by calls for a change in the law on anonymity for rape defendants.

"The government had legal experts examine this proposal in 2012 and threw it out, concluding that it would only have a negative impact on access to justice for rape victims.

"What is needed is less sensational media reporting and a joint commitment to challenging damaging myths and stereotypes about rape and other forms of sexual violence.”

- agencies

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