Crown under fire after Roache cleared

By Martin Evans, Gordon Rayner

Actor William Roache - Ken Barlow of Coronation Street - was found not guilty on all charges. Picture / AP
Actor William Roache - Ken Barlow of Coronation Street - was found not guilty on all charges. Picture / AP

Prosecutors insist they will continue in their "duty" of putting celebrities on trial despite Bill Roache becoming the latest high-profile figure to be cleared of historic sex-abuse charges.

Roache, 81, the Coronation Street actor, was unanimously found not guilty of two counts of rape and four of indecent assault by a jury at Preston Crown Court yesterday.

The Crown Prosecution Service, already facing claims of a "witch-hunt" after the acquittal of another Coronation Street actor, Michael Le Vell, last year, was forced on to the defensive, saying Roache's case "was treated like any other".

Roache's supporters suggested the CPS was "over-compensating" for its failure to pursue Jimmy Savile. Senior barristers said the Roache verdict would only increase the pressure on the CPS when it decides whether to charge other celebrities on bail over historic sex abuse claims, including Freddie Starr, Paul Gambaccini and Jimmy Tarbuck.

Roache claimed he had never met the women who accused him of sex attacks in the 1960s, and one of the charges had to be dropped part way through his trial after his accuser admitted she had "no actual memory" of the alleged assault. The recollections of other accusers proved to be faulty when tested in court.

Roache, who has played Ken Barlow since 1960, emerged from court flanked by his children 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."

Trying Roache over allegations dating back 50 years was a high-stakes gamble for the CPS which has backfired with potentially far-reaching consequences. John Cooper, QC, a leading barrister, said: "The CPS must consider each particular case on its merits and will not be overly affected by individual verdicts, although they will be well aware of the developing catalogue of acquittals in the most recent historical cases."

Christine Hamilton, wife of former Tory MP Neil Hamilton, who has also faced false sex-abuse allegations, said: "There does feel like there is an element of the witch hunt going on here.

"The authorities let people down over Jimmy Savile and I do wonder if we are now seeing the result of an over-compensation in the way they are pursuing cases."

Ken Morley, who played Reg Holdsworth in Coronation Street, said: "Considering the Michael Le Vell farce, they should be careful about the waste of taxpayers' money.

"My heart goes out to Bill. We all knew it was nonsense from the outset."

Nazir Afzal, the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West and the CPS national lead on child sexual exploitation, denied being a "celeb hunter" following the Le Vell case last year.

Yesterday he 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.

"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."

Roache will be able to resume his career on Coronation Street. ITV said: "We look forward to talking to Bill soon about his return to work."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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