No Le Vell 'witch hunt': prosecutor
A top prosecutor has denied there is a "celebrity witch-hunt" in the wake of the acquittal of Coronation Street actor Michael Le Vell on child sex abuse charges.
Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service national lead on child sexual exploitation, said "nobody should be above the law" and it is the Crown's job to look at evidence, follow it wherever it may go and then present it.
His remarks come after Le Vell, known to millions of TV fans as the soap's mechanic Kevin Webster, said he was looking forward to a drink after being cleared of 12 child sex offences at Manchester Crown Court.
The 48-year-old mouthed the words "thank you" to the jury who dismissed a string of allegations made by his accuser, who claimed she had been raped and abused while a young girl.
Le Vell's aunt and several former Coronation Street colleagues claimed he had been taken to court just because of his celebrity status.
Mr Afzal, who is also Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West, made the initial decision not to charge Le Vell after he was first arrested in September 2011 but that was later over-ruled by Alison Levitt QC, the principal legal adviser to the Director of Public Prosecutions for England.
Today, Mr Afzal stressed that each case was assessed on its own merits, regardless of whether a suspect had a high public profile. He said: "I absolutely detest this word 'witch-hunt'. It is not a witch-hunt. We look at the evidence. We follow the evidence. We present the evidence."
He said it is then a matter for the courts and juries to decide on what is put before them. "I am not shy about pursuing these type of cases and will continue to do so," he said.
Speaking of the trial, actor Ken Morley, who played supermarket manager Reg Holdsworth in Coronation Street, told the Daily Mail: "There was never any physical or forensic evidence or psychiatric report. I think it will make people revise their attitudes and realise there has been an element of hysteria."
Le Vell's aunt, Pat Gallier, told the same newspaper: "The police seem to be arresting celebrities and accusing them of child sex offences without seeming to check if there's enough evidence. Michael's been caught up in this witch-hunt."
Keir Starmer QC, outgoing director of public prosecutions, told MPs the decision to proceed with Le Vell's prosecution was the "right decision". Mr Starmer told the Home Affairs Select Committee: "A proper assessment was taken in the case, the decision to proceed was the right decision."
Mr Starmer said there was a "safeguard" in the criminal justice system, which allows for a judge to halt proceedings at the end of the prosecution's case if he or she determines there is no case to answer.
The DPP also said he believed defendants should be named at charge and should not remain anonymous.