Trial gave public viewing rights into private life of small-screen star

By Martin Evans, Gordon Rayner

Actor William Roach. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Actor William Roach. Photo / Brett Phibbs

During a television interview before his arrest, Bill Roache decided to share his views on the subject of celebrities who are accused of sexually assaulting fans.

"There's a fringe of people," he said, "who have these groupies, these girls, they're sexually active and they don't ask for a birth certificate, they don't know what age they may be.

"They're certainly not grooming them and exploiting them, but they can be caught in this trap. These people are instantly stigmatised, some will be innocent, some will not."

As he spoke on a New Zealand television station, he had no idea he was about to join the ranks of celebrities accused of raping and indecently assaulting "groupies" in the distant past. In fact, it was this very interview last March that prompted a woman to contact police saying she had been assaulted by Roache in the 1960s which, in turn, led to other women coming forward with similar claims.

Yesterday, a jury decided their allegations were baseless, but not before Roache's private life had been dissected in minute and painful detail over the course of the month-long trial.

Like his Coronation Street co-stars Michael Le Vell and Andrew Lancel, who were both cleared of historic sex offences last year, Roache, 81, will be able to carry on with his career, but only after enduring a brutal character assassination in court.

In his 53 years in Coronation Street, Roache's character, Ken Barlow, has had three wives and relationships with more than 20 other women, yet his personal life has been far more colourful. In a police statement read out in court, Roache said: "I accept that I have taken the opportunity to have sex with many women. I enjoy having sex with mature women."

In fact, he admitted in a recent interview that he had slept with up to 1000 women, and confessed to repeatedly cheating on his first wife, Anna, the mother of his two eldest children, from whom he was divorced in 1974.

He said: "I didn't have any control over my own sex drive ... There were plenty of girls around. I shouldn't have done it. It depressed me. I'm so sorry for the things that I did. The hurt was the children. I'll always regret that. Every morning I woke up regretting and hurting."

Roache, supported each day of his trial by three of his four children, had to sit in silence as a woman said that as a 15-year-old fan she was subjected to a "cold, calculating rape" when she called at his house, one of two rapes and five indecent assaults he was accused of. Yet even before the jury at Preston Crown Court had retired to consider its verdicts, it was clear the prosecution was on shaky ground.

Part way through the trial, Justice Sir Timothy Holroyde had ordered the jury to return a not guilty verdict on one indecent assault charge after the alleged victim said she had "no actual memory" of it.

The defence was also able to show that the women's claims were in some cases hopelessly inaccurate. The accusers' claims were also at odds with the "lovely" man and "perfect gentleman" described by Roache's co-stars, including his on-screen wife Anne Kirkbride.

Born in Derbyshire in 1932 and initially educated by his grandfather, a spiritualist and hypnotist, Roache served in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, rising to the rank of captain. After being demobbed he won a series of minor television roles including one in a Granada television play called Marking Time, in which he was spotted by Tony Warren, the creator of Coronation Street.

After the collapse of his first marriage he married again in 1978 and had a son and two daughters, but tragedy struck when one daughter, Edwina, died aged just 18 months. Struggling with his grief, he turned to spirituality.

Following the death of his second wife, Sara, in 2009, he began a relationship with weather presenter Emma Jesson, 44, but last year they split up after Roache declared a desire to throw himself more fully into the Pure Love Movement, a Manchester-based group that believes "pure love conquers all".

After he was cleared yesterday he gave thanks to the support he had had from the "Circle of Love". It was as he was asked about his belief system that his views on sex abuse were aired during the TV interview last year. Asked if sex abuse victims "bring it on themselves", Roache said: "No, not quite, and yet yes ... in that everything that happens to us has been a result of what we have been in previous lives."

Referring to alleged child abusers, he added: "Whether they're proven guilty or not, we should not be judgmental about anybody else, ever. We shouldn't go around condemning, unforgiving. We should always be totally forgiving about everything."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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