William Roache found not guilty of rape and indecent assault

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Media captionWilliam Roache: "There are no winners in these situations"

Coronation Street actor William Roache has been cleared of rape and indecent assault charges by a jury.

Mr Roache, 81, of Wilmslow, Cheshire, was found not guilty of two rapes and four indecent assaults after a trial at Preston Crown Court.

Five women had claimed he assaulted them when they were aged 16 or under between 1965 and 1971.

Outside court, he said: "In these situations there are no winners... we should be much kinder to ourselves."

He added: "If you'll excuse me, I need to get back to work."

Evidence 'lacked credibility'

His family, who had accompanied him to court throughout the trial, cried with relief as the verdicts were read out.

Mr Roache was previously cleared of a fifth indecent assault charge after the judge said there was a lack of evidence.

During the three-week trial, Mr Roache denied knowing any of his accusers and said he had never had a sexual interest in under-age girls.

The women, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had claimed he indecently assaulted them in the toilets and dressing rooms at Granada Studios in Manchester, as well as in his car.

One woman alleged he raped her twice at his homes in Haslingden, Lancashire, on separate occasions.

The prosecution had accused Mr Roache of using his fame and popularity to exploit the girls and said that, if the actor was telling the truth, he was the victim of a "huge, distorted and perverse witch-hunt".

But Louise Blackwell QC, defending, said the women's evidence "lacked sense and credibility".

In court, the woman making the rape claims changed her mind about how old she was at the time.

Another woman initially told police she was warned about Mr Roache by actor Johnny Briggs, who played Mike Baldwin, but when it was discovered he was not in the show at the time she said the warning had come from a different actor.

'Decent and kind'

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Image caption Mr Roache was supported in court by his family, including son Linus

A fifth indecent assault charge was dropped due to insufficient evidence after the woman, who accused him of abusing her in his car, told the court she had "no actual memory" of the episode.

The jury, of eight women and four men, heard Mr Roache had been "astounded" and "horrified" when he was first arrested at his home in Wilmslow, Cheshire, on 1 May last year.

Mr Roache is the longest-serving TV soap actor, having portrayed Ken Barlow since Coronation Street began in 1960.

Outside court, he thanked the Circle of Love "for their love and energy that has brought me to this place and this time".

The group, which Mr Roache has been a part of for several years, practise spiritual healing and meditation.

He also thanked ITV Granada, his legal team and his friends and family for their support.

Several of the soap's cast were called as character witnesses during his three-week trial.

Anne Kirkbride, who plays Deirdre Barlow, described him as "lovely", Chris Gascoyne - who plays his son - said he was "decent and kind", while Helen Worth, who plays neighbour Gail McIntyre, said he was "caring".

Speaking after the verdicts, colleague Michael Le Vell, who was recently cleared of sex abuse charges, said: "I'm delighted."

Charlie Condou, who plays Marcus Dent in the soap, said: "It's been a horrible time for everyone, not least Bill, but we're really pleased that the right verdict has been given... and looking forward to seeing Bill back at work soon."

Former cast colleague Ken Farrington, who played Billy Walker in the 1960s and 70s, said Mr Roache "treated women with respect".

He added: "It's a mystery where this has come from."

ITV said it would be discussing the actor's future in Coronation Street shortly.

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

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Media captionJudith Moritz reports on a part of William Roache's life that has only come to light over the course of the last few months

After the case, Lancashire Constabulary said the allegations had been "thoroughly and professionally investigated by specialist detectives".

A spokesman said that "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".

He added that the force "entirely respect the verdict reached by the jury".

Nazir Afzal, chief prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service North West, said: "We have a duty to those who make complaints of serious offences to listen to the allegations... 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 and thank them for their careful deliberation," he said.

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