Coronation Street soap star Michael Le Vell cleared in child sex case

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 12:34am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 8:56am

Joyful Coronation Street actor Michael Le Vell said he was looking forward to a drink after he was today cleared of child abuse charges.

The 48-year-old mouthed the words “thank you” to the jury of eight women and four men who dismissed a string of allegations made by his accuser, who claimed she had been raped and abused while a young girl.

Le Vell kept his emotions in check as his family members in the public gallery wept, as one by one, not guilty verdicts on the 12 counts were delivered but the strain of the seven-day trial was apparent as he appeared drained when he left the dock.

Jurors took just under five hours to reach their verdicts at Manchester Crown Court after they were told by the judge yesterday that their assessment of Le Vell’s accuser was “critical”.

They faced a stark decision on the truth in that either the girl had entered the witness box to recall traumatic events she had suffered or she was a dishonest person who had come to court to “quite literally destroy” the life of the defendant, said Judge Michael Henshell.

The “demons” in Le Vell’s private life were laid bare in the trial – his alcoholism and womanising while his wife battled breast cancer.

The court heard of his “dark secrets” that he had a string of one-night stands and an affair behind the back of his wife of 25 years, actress Janette Beverley. And he had abandoned the family home to drink up to nine pints in the pub most nights.

But while Le Vell might be described as a “weak, stupid and drunk man” and a “bad husband”, he was not a child rapist, his barrister Alisdair Williamson told the jury.

Alcohol was on Le Vell’s mind as he walked out of court to a media scrum and thanked his family, his legal team and his employers, ITV, before he said with a smile: “And I might go have a drink now.”

Crown prosecutor Eleanor Laws QC had argued Le Vell was a “troubled man” who had sexually assaulted his victim but that account was rejected by the jury.

His accuser, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was not in court to hear the verdicts.

She had been described as “bubbly”, “lovely” and “naive” by the Crown after she had sobbed when she gave evidence that Le Vell, known to millions of TV fans as the soap’s Kevin Webster, raped her as she clutched a teddy bear.

But the jury heard from Mr Williamson that it was a “strange case of child rape” without any DNA evidence or injuries to the alleged victim – although medical experts agreed it could not be ruled out for certain.

Le Vell, on trial under his real name of Michael Turner, had denied five counts of rape, three of indecent assault, two counts of sexual activity with a child, and two of causing a child to engage in sexual activity.

He held his head up as the male foreman gave the verdicts to the court clerk.

On the fourth count of not guilty, he nodded his head in agreement with them.

His brother and sisters, who sat in the public gallery, were in tears as the verdicts were delivered.

One man shouted “Get in” when the last verdict was read out.

Le Vell looked round in confusion before he left the dock and was warmly hugged by a supporter.

Cries of relief were then heard as he left the courtroom a free man, with his family members.

One of his supporters and close friend, former Coronation Street star Nigel Pivaro, who played Terry Duckworth, said: “He has suffered two years of hell and probably, also due to his high profile, far more than most.

“It has been a long journey for him.

“Now the jury has spoken, he can pick up his career and his life.”

Asked if had spoken to Le Vell, Pivaro said: “We grabbed a moment, he didn’t say much.

“He was probably calmer than anyone around him.

“It is a tremendous relief for all his family who have travelled from around the world to support him. Of course, they are incredibly emotional.”

Le Vell, from Hale, Cheshire, was initially arrested on September 30 2011, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to proceed with the case.

After a review of the evidence following fresh allegations by the girl, Le Vell was re-arrested and charged in February this year.

Following the verdicts, a CPS spokeswoman said that review had concluded there was “sufficient evidence” for a realistic prospect of conviction and that it was in the public interest to bring the case.

Le Vell first joined Coronation Street in 1983 and quickly endeared himself to fans, who have followed the trials and tribulations of Kevin, from Brian Tilsley’s apprentice mechanic through to his stormy marriage to Sally, played by Sally Dynevor.

He did not appear in any episodes of the soap during the legal proceedings.

Commenting after the case, a spokeswoman for Coronation Street said: “We are looking forward to meeting with Michael to discuss his return to the programme.”