Thursday 19 April 2018

Le Vell case not a celebrity witch-hunt, insists lawyer

Michael Le Vell: actor celebrates his acquittal with his sister, Sue
Michael Le Vell: actor celebrates his acquittal with his sister, Sue

Jamie Grierson and Kim Pilling

A SENIOR prosecutor who was over-ruled after deciding not to charge Coronation Street's Michael Le Vell with child sex crimes yesterday rejected claims of a celebrity witch-hunt following the actor's acquittal.

Nazir Afzal, the senior Crown Prosecution Service lawyer on child sexual exploitation, said that policies to pursue alleged offenders would continue unchanged despite criticisms by the actor's family and supporters that he was targeted because of his public profile.

Another prosecutor, Keir Starmer QC told MPs it was the "right decision" to pursue a prosecution of the now-acquitted star for child sex abuse charges.

Mr Starmer said, "There is a safeguard within our system and that is at the end of the prosecution's case in court, it is not only open to the judge, it is the duty of the judge to stop the case if there's no case to answer.

"That did not happen in this case, and therefore there was a case to answer. That case was answered and the jury took some time to consider their verdict.

"So it was a properly brought case, it's not a case on which there was no evidence, had it been it would have been stopped halfway after testing of the evidence."

He went on: "It is true, the test for the prosecutor is a realistic prospect of conviction and the test for the jury is whether the case is proved beyond all reasonable doubt, having heard all the witnesses.

"But the fact that a decision was taken to start a case and it doesn't end up in conviction does not mean it was improperly brought."

Mr Le Vell (48) 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.

Mr Le Vell's aunt and several former 'Coronation Street' colleagues claimed he had been taken to court just because of his celebrity status.

Earlier, Mr Afzal said "nobody should be above the law" and it was the Crown's job to look at evidence, follow it wherever it may go and then present it.

Mr Afzal, who is also Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West, made the initial decision not to charge Mr Le Vell after he was first arrested in September 2011 but that was later overruled.

Speaking at a child sexual exploitation conference in Blackburn, Lancashire, 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."

Irish Independent

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