Manchester

Michael Le Vell: Street star's 'demons' laid bare in trial

Michael Le Vell
Image caption Michael Le Vell was described in court as a "heavy drinker [who] went out most nights"

Coronation Street star Michael Le Vell has been cleared of child sex abuse offences after a trial at Manchester Crown Court that lasted more than a week. On the steps of the court, after the jury had found him not guilty of 12 charges, his relief was obvious.

"I might go and have a drink now, believe it or not," was how Mr Le Vell finished his brief statement to the gathered media.

It was a remark that raised a laugh with his supporters but, as had been clear in the trial, it pointed to a dark side of the star's private life.

The 48-year-old actor, tried under his real name Michael Turner, had confessed his inner demons - alcoholism and adultery - during his time in the witness box.

'Troubled life'

However, the star who plays Kevin Webster in the ITV soap maintained throughout he had never sexually assaulted or raped a child.

The judge had warned jurors not to confuse the man in the dock with his TV role as the car mechanic he has played for 30 years, watched by nine million viewers a week.

Mr Le Vell told the court his role had allowed him to live a "luxury, charmed" existence, but that on-screen fame hid what prosecutors said was a "troubled" life.

During cross-examination, he admitted he was an alcoholic and for 30 years had been "drinking about seven or eight pints a night" in the pub.

He told the court he had attended Alcoholics Anonymous "one or two times" but had given up on each occasion after just a few weeks.

In court, Mr Le Vell claimed his drinking was the result of his "working-class mentality" and confessed he had only been able to continue acting because his job had "cocooned" him.

'One-night stands'

The verdict came at the end of a trial which had seen the prosecutor remind the jury the case concerned neither Coronation Street's Kevin Webster nor Michael Le Vell.

Image caption Mr Le Vell has played garage mechanic Kevin Webster in the popular soap since 1983

"The man on trial is Michael Turner," chief prosecutor Eleanor Laws QC said.

During his trial, the jury heard how Mr Le Vell had cheated on his wife while she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, in a parallel with his on-screen character, and he had had a string of one-night stands.

By coincidence, his character Kevin Webster had an affair with a character called Molly Dobbs while his on-screen wife, Sally Webster, developed breast cancer.

Such plot developments came a long time after Mr Turner started acting at school, aged 12, later becoming a member of Oldham Theatre Workshop, adopting the stage name of Le Vell along the way.

In 1981, he got his break, joining Coronation Street in a minor role for a few episodes. Two years later, he was cast as mechanic Kevin Webster.

As producers sought to win younger audiences Kevin and his two mates - bad-boy Terry Duckworth (played by Nigel Pivaro) and dreamer with intellectual pretensions Curly Watts (Kevin Kennedy) became a hit with fans.

Star's personal drama

Only Mr Le Vell has lasted in "The Street" and fans of the soap opera have followed his stormy relationship with Sally, played by Sally Dynevor.

Image caption Mr Le Vell's trial lasted seven days and ended with his acquittal on all charges

Such was his prominence, he had a major part in 2010's live 50th anniversary episode, which featured a fatal tram crash in Weatherfield, with his performance leading to a Best Actor nomination at the 2011 British Soap Awards.

Within months of that on-screen drama though, Mr Le Vell was dealing with his own crisis as he was arrested over child sex allegations.

He "strenuously" denied the claims and, after considering the case, the Crown Prosecution Service made the decision not to bring charges against him, in January 2012.

At the time, Mr Le Vell praised Greater Manchester Police for a "fair, thorough and independent investigation", adding that he was "delighted to be completely exonerated" by the decision to take no further action.

A year later however, the principal legal adviser to the Director of Public Prosecutions overturned the decision and brought a prosecution case against him.

'He's been exonerated'

Again, Mr Le Vell denied the accusations and said they were "an absolute pack of lies" which he would "fight vigorously".

During the trial, the prosecution put it to Mr Le Vell his witness box performance was just an act.

But a jury of eight women and four men did not believe he was acting and the actor left the court a free man.

His on-screen and off-screen friend Mr Pivaro sees no reason why Mr Le Vell cannot resume his Coronation Street career.

"I think the indication is clear that he is going back to Coronation Street and why not? He's been exonerated," said Mr Pivaro.

"We'll see, but let's face it, who amongst us can say that we are whiter than white, squeaky clean?

"Most of us have got skeletons in the cupboard of one kind or another but that doesn't make us criminals or sex offenders."

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