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Whatever the verdict, images of Corrie star case will linger


TRIAL: ‘Corrie’ actor William Roache, centre, arrives at Preston Crown Court with his family

TRIAL: ‘Corrie’ actor William Roache, centre, arrives at Preston Crown Court with his family

TRIAL: ‘Corrie’ actor William Roache, centre, arrives at Preston Crown Court with his family

It's been almost 10 months to the day since William Roache told an interviewer in New Zealand that, "there's been a pendulum swing after the Jimmy Savile situation".

Little did he know how fatefully accurate that assessment would be: Since Savile's crimes against children were uncovered, a slew of big names from the entertainment world have found themselves before the courts in the UK, charged with sexual offences.

And of course, in a blaze of publicity, Roache himself is now standing trial over charges of abusing five women between the mid-1960s and early 1970s. His trial has heard that the complainants, who did not know each other, apart from two sisters, claimed they had been assaulted while at Granada Studios in Manchester, in his car or at properties he owned.

Prosecutor Anne Whyte QC began her closing speech at Preston Crown Court to the jury of eight women and four women with the observation: "Well, members of the jury, someone is lying. Five complainants have made sexual allegations against William Roache. He is emphatic that it just did not happen. He either did it or he did not. He is lying or literally, all of them are."

As part of their counter against this argument, Roache's legal team brought some of his Coronation Street colleagues onto the stand. His on-screen wife 'Deirdre' – actress Anne Kirkbride – said that she had never seen anything worrying about Roache's behaviour on set with young women from when she joined the show in about 1972, at a time when she was in her teens. ITV employee John Friend Newman told the jury he had worked as a floor manager on Coronation Street since 1979 and that anyone outside the cast and crew, including "the lord mayor of Manchester" would have been challenged if they had appeared on the set.

One of the alleged women victims contradicted this. She said she was allowed to glance inside the Rovers Return, Coronation Street's fictional pub, before Roache took her into his dressing room. Her sister wandered off with another actor, Neville Buswell, who played Ray Langton on the soap, she told the jury. She said Roache was still wearing his stage make-up, including lipstick, his face blanched with powder "like a ghost", when he suddenly assaulted her.

The woman told the court that Roache had tried to put his hands in her knickers and only stopped when she lied and said she was having her period. She said she did not tell her sister – who also claims she was abused by Roache on a separate occasion – about the alleged incident until a few weeks later. Afterwards, they referred to him as 'The Roach', she said.

The impetus to report him to police finally came, she said, when she heard the interview in which Roache had referred to the pendulum swing and Jimmy Savile. In the same interview, he had gone on to claim that victims of abuse might themselves have been at fault. "I think I came out when 'The Roach' made this comment about us being paid back for something you did in a previous life," she said. Last year, in the aftermath of the publicity surrounding sex allegations against BBC stars Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall, she remembered saying to her sister: "I wonder if Ken Barlow is crapping himself."

Hall's own trial will also take place in Preston Crown Court. He is alleged to have committed seven counts of rape against one girl between 1976 and 1978 in Manchester, when she was aged between 14 and 16. He is also accused of eight counts of rape and one count of indecent assault against his second alleged victim, aged between 11 or 12 and 15 at the time, between 1976 and 1981, at various locations in Manchester and Cheshire.

Their cases throw up interesting questions about the cult of celebrity. The prosecutor in the case against Roache told the jury that they may think that Roache would assume the complainants were "over-interested" in him and "struck by his fame". She added that "times have changed now" and this explained the "decades of silence" from the complainants.

Roache remains a popular figure with his cast members on the show and, if acquitted, can look forward to being welcomed back with open arms. Whether the public can purge from their mind the images from the courtroom remains to be seen. One thing seems certain, whatever the outcome of the trial: in real life Roache will never again be so thoughtlessly conflated with 'Ken.'

Irish Independent