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Corrie star Bill Roache charged with two counts of rape

Coronation Street actor Bill Roache is to be charged with two counts of rape of a 15-year-old girl in 1967, the Crown Prosecution Service said.

The 81-year-old, who has played Ken Barlow in the ITV soap since its launch, was arrested at his home in Wilmslow, Cheshire, this morning.

Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS North West, said: "We have carefully considered all the evidence gathered by Lancashire Police in relation to William Roache following allegations of rape.

"We have been reviewing evidence and providing early investigative advice to Lancashire Police since 1 March 2013.

"Having completed our review, we have concluded that there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest for Mr Roache to be charged with two offences of rape relating to a girl, aged 15, in 1967."

Roache will appear at Preston Magistrates' Court on May 14.

It is understood that Roache - the world's longest-serving soap actor - will not appear in the show while investigations continue.

He collected an award from Guinness World Records in 2010 for his lengthy service in Coronation Street, having joined in 1960 and appearing regularly ever since.

Mr Afzal said: "This decision was taken in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors and our guidance for prosecutors on sexual offences.

"Mr Roache has a right to a fair trial and it is therefore very important that nothing is said, or reported, which could prejudice that trial. For these reasons, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further."

Roache's arrest comes little over a month after he appeared to suggest that sex abuse victims were being punished for sins in a past life. He issued an apology over the comments in March.

He was interviewed for a New Zealand news programme and said the public should not be judgmental but be "totally forgiving" of people who had committed child sex crimes.

He told the programme: "If you accept that you are pure love, and if you know that you are pure love and therefore live that pure love, these things won't happen to you."

Asked to clarify whether that meant victims brought the abuse on themselves, he said: "No, not quite, but and yet I am, because everything that happens to us has been a result of what we have been in previous lives or whatever."

He also called for anonymity for those accused of child sex offences because of the stigma they faced even if innocent.

Roache later issued a statement saying he was "sorry for any offence that has been caused as a result of my comments".

His comments were condemned by abuse charities.

In a TV interview last year the actor said he had slept with up to 1,000 women.

In the interview with Piers Morgan, he told of his regrets at regularly cheating on his first wife, Anna. The couple divorced in 1974 and his second wife, Sara, died in 2009.

A near neighbour of Roache, who did not want to be named, said they were not aware of his arrest this morning until the press arrived outside his house.

The neighbour said: "All I can say is whenever I see him he's an absolutely delightful fellow. It's an absolute witch-hunt. Poor sod."

Shortly before 4pm, officers at Roache's home could be seen placing brown paper evidence bags inside an unmarked police car, which left the address shortly afterwards.

It was followed by two more unmarked police cars, each with three plain clothes officers inside.

At just after 9.40pm, Roache, wearing a dark pullover, checked shirt and jacket, arrived back at his home, around 14 hours after his initial arrest.

He was the front-seat passenger in a Ford Focus driven by his solicitor which went straight up the drive of his home without stopping.

Roache made no response to questions shouted to him from reporters gathered outside his home.

His solicitor left in the car five minutes later and said only: "Mr Roache will make a statement in the morning."

An ITV spokesman said: "Bill Roache will not be appearing in Coronation Street until legal proceedings are concluded."

PA Media