• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 8:07pm
NewsWorld
UNITED KINGDOM

UK actor Bill Roache cleared of rape and sexual assault charges against teenage girls

Lawyers for British actor Bill Roache argued that trial had been ‘infected’ by a torrent of abuse allegations against Jimmy Savile and others

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 10:15am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 February, 2014, 12:19pm
 

British actor Bill Roache, who stars in the long-running television soap opera Coronation Street, has been cleared of raping and sexually assaulting five women in the 1960s and 70s.

The 81-year-old was found not guilty of all charges after a three-and-a-half week trial at Preston crown court, where he was accused of exploiting his fame to rape a 15-year-old girl and indecently assault four other teenagers at the soap’s studios in Manchester and in his Rolls-Royce.

Roache, who has played Ken Barlow since Coronation Street began in 1960, maintained his innocence throughout. He insisted he had never met his accusers, let alone molested them.

As he left court the actor said: “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. He thanked his employer 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.

Roache did not respond when asked if the trial had been “a witch-hunt”.

In a packed courtroom, Roache’s legal team argued that the police investigation and subsequent trial had been “infected” by the torrent of abuse allegations made against the late BBC broadcaster Jimmy Savile and other celebrities after the entertainer’s death in 2011. The “spectre” of Savile loomed large, claimed Roache’s barrister, Louise Blackwell QC, as she accused the complainants of jumping on a bandwagon.

The actor stood in the dock as the unanimous verdicts were delivered, his face giving little away. A bodyguard who had ushered him in and out of court for the entirety of the trial clapped as he was released from the dock.

The jury spent five hours and 59 minutes deliberating before coming into court to deliver the verdicts at 11.19am. Roache’s youngest son, James, dissolved into tears with a hand over his face; his brother Linus also wiped away tears and Roache’s youngest daughter, Verity, was hugged before she also began to weep.

One of Roache’s minders sprung to his feet and shouted: “Yes!” and began to clap. The judge told him to be quiet.

After the jury of eight women and four men delivered their not-guilty verdicts, Roache’s lawyer asked if the defendant could be discharged from the dock and the judge, Mr Justice Holroyde agreed. “Mr Roache you are free to leave the dock,” he said. Roache smiled while he passed three of his four children as he left the dock.

Blackwell said she would be applying for the defendant’s legal costs to be paid by the taxpayer.

“In these situations there are no winners and I think we should all be much kinder to ourselves.”
Bill Roache

The prosecution’s case was that Roache put on a performance in the witness box, just as he has on the Coronation Street set for the past 53 years. “Mr Roache presents a fictional image of himself for a living – it is a skill central to his work and fame,” said Anne Whyte QC for the prosecution, as she opened the case.

Each day Roache arrived at court in a chauffeur-driven car from his luxury home in Wilmslow, Cheshire. He faced the waiting photographers flanked by a burly, bald bodyguard and three of his four children – actors Linus and James and their sister, Verity.

Fifty-year-old Linus, who starred as Bruce Wayne’s father in the 2005 film Batman Begins, was in court to hear his father admit to repeatedly cheating on his mother, Anna Cropper, who died in 2007. Roache confessed to infidelity during the period the alleged assaults took place, but insisted that he was never interested in underage girls, only “mature and willing” partners.

The Coronation Street cast also stood by him, with three co-stars giving evidence under oath. Anne Kirkbride, his on-off screen wife Deirdre Barlow for more than 40 years, described Roache as “a perfect gentleman” who always behaved “impeccably”. Chris Gascoyne, who plays his son, Peter Barlow, said Roache was an inspiration, while Helen Worth, best known to viewers as Gail Platt, described him as the soap opera’s “elder statesman”.

Roache ended up in the dock after a woman called police last year claiming Roache had raped her when she was 14 or 15 in his bungalow in the Lancashire village of Haslingden.

Appearing via videolink, the woman – now 62 – told the jury she came forward following a conversation with her son in the aftermath of the Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal and those of other well-known figures, such as the late Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Rochdale, Cyril Smith.

She said her son remarked on how strange it was that those accusing the men had waited so long to make their allegations. The son testified to say his mother eventually, and reluctantly, explained that the delay was perfectly understandable, and that she too had been the victim of a sex assault by a famous man. He badgered her to call the police until she gave in, telling the jury he was “like a dog with a bone”.

The woman eventually accused Roache of raping her twice, the second time at another property he owned in Haslingden.

“You may well have had preconceptions about Mr Roache when you saw him give evidence.”
Louise Blackwell QC

The other four complainants came forward following publicity over Roaches’ arrest for the alleged rapes. One woman, now 63, claimed Roache had assaulted her when she was 14 in the men’s toilets at Granada Studios, where Coronation Street was filmed. Giving evidence she also told the jury she “believed” she had been assaulted at a later date in the actor’s car, but couldn’t remember for sure – her uncertainty caused the judge, Tim Holroyde QC, to instruct the jury to find Roache not guilty on that charge halfway through the trial.

A third woman, who was an actor, told the court that Roache groped her in his Coronation Street dressing room in 1965. She was 16 at the time. She described how he fondled her breasts over her bra, before telling her that he would pull some strings to get her a role in the show if she “played ball”, as the prosecution put it.

The final two complainants were sisters who alleged that Roache had assaulted them on separate occasions between June 1968 and October 1970, when they were under 16. They said they met the actor when hanging around Granada Studios in Manchester, hoping for a glimpse of their favourite stars. The older sister, now 59, claimed that Roache molested her after a tour of the Rover’s Return, Coronation Street’s pub. Her younger sister, now 57, said he forced her to masturbate him in his Rolls-Royce when he gave her and a friend a lift home from the studios.

But the jury did not believe the women. It was not convinced beyond reasonable doubt that he was guilty of these serious crimes.

In court, Blackwell had argued that the case against Roache was “nonsense”. In her closing speech, she reminded the jury of the glowing testimonies given about the defendant by his co-stars.

“You may well have had preconceptions about Mr Roache when you saw him give evidence,” Blackwell said.

“Did he appear to you as a gentle, nice, lovely man? What the prosecution say is that for some weird reason between 1965 and 1972, for no discernible reason, Mr Roache departed from his usual character and behaviour and became a young woman-snatcher, a risk-taker, taking people into toilets.

“Then as soon as this madness is visited upon him, it passes. It’s nonsense, it just doesn’t happen in the real world. An expression, ladies and gentlemen: a leopard doesn’t change its spots. How do you hide that and completely stop it for the next 42 years from 1972? Well, you don’t.”

The barrister asked the jury not to “fall into the trap” of thinking there may be other women out there, in the “post-Jimmy Savile, post-Cyril Smith era”.

“There are five women,” she said. “Not 25 or 500 and none of them, nobody suggests, after 1972. Where has this risk-taking libido gone to? Well, it’s never been there. There’s not a shred of evidence anywhere else in Mr Roache’s life that he was this risk-taking predator.”

Roache is now expected to return to Coronation Street. He hasn’t appeared in the soap since 29 April last year, when Deirdre announced that Ken had taken an impromptu holiday.

 

Share

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 

Login

SCMP.com Account

or