William Roache: Coronation Street star's comments led to nightmare
- 6 February 2014
- From the section Manchester
Had it not been for comments he made in which he suggested abuse victims had "brought it on themselves", William Roache may never have been arrested and tried in the full glare of the world's media.
In a television interview with New Zealand broadcaster TVNZ in March 2013, the 81-year-old actor seemed to suggest the victims were being punished for their actions in previous lives.
Asked if he believed that to be true, he replied: "No, not quite… but yet I am. Everything that happens to us has been the result of what has been in previous lives or whatever."
He also spoke of "pure love" and spirituality. The interview caused a furore.
Although he later apologised and said he had been "misunderstood", a woman was prompted by his comments to contact police on 1 May 2013, the day of his rape arrest.
A woman, now 62, alleged that she was raped twice as a 15-year-old girl by Mr Roache at his homes in Haslingden, Lancashire, telling the court she had "buried" her memories of the attacks for 47 years.
Four other women, now in their 50s and 60s, claimed they had been indecently assaulted by Roache in his car or in the dressing rooms and toilets at Granada Studios, where Coronation Street was filmed.
Mr Roache's Coronation Street character Ken Barlow had an enduring reputation as a womaniser and has been involved in 25 on-screen relationships, including three marriages.
Off-screen, Mr Roache surprised many fans of the show by claiming in a TV interview with Piers Morgan that he had slept with up to 1,000 women.
He cheated repeatedly on his first wife, Anna, but was faithful to his second wife Sara, who died in 2009. He admitted a one-off fling in the 1970s with Pat Phoenix, who played Elsie Tanner in the soap.
However, he said his life had changed after he discovered an interest in spirituality during the 1970s - an enthusiasm that saw him dress in druid's robes for the 1976 Spring Equinox.
For a number of years, the actor has attended weekly meetings of the Circle of Love group in Manchester - a non-religious spiritual group which "seeks to bring peace to Earth" and extols pure love.
Speaking outside court, Mr Roache said: "I would like to thank [group leader] James and the Circle of Love for their love and energy that has brought me to this place and this time and I look forward to being with them."
After a three-week trial, the jury found Mr Roache was not a man to force himself on women or girls against their will.
Fellow Coronation Street actors gave evidence in his defence and spoke of him as an elder statesman of the cast.
Chris Gascoyne, who plays his on-screen son Peter Barlow, and the actress who has been his wife Deirdre on the show for many years, Anne Kilbride, spoke in his defence, along with Helen Worth, who plays neighbour Gail McIntyre.
Ms Worth said: "We looked up to him. He was a father figure, an elder statesman."
She described him as "caring" and "lovely". Smiling in his direction as she left the court, he waved at her.
Ms Kilbride was asked to sum him up in a single word. She replied: "Lovely."
'Against my nature'
He admitted sending a letter to one of his alleged victims, including a signed photograph including the words: "Write to me when you start school again, love Bill."
Mr Roache said there was a simple explanation - it was merely a fan letter and actors in the 1960s had competitions to see who could get the most correspondence.
The 81-year-old strenuously denied the alleged assaults, telling officers: "It's against my nature. I am a very peaceful person. I would never do that to anyone."
Mr Roache said he was "astounded and deeply horrified" and denied knowing any of the complainants.
The prosecution ultimately offered no evidence on one of the charges against him.
It was not the first time he had faced a high profile court battle.
In 1991, he took The Sun newspaper to court over defamatory claims it said had been made by other cast members. Roache won, but ended up having to pay almost £1m in costs.
In 2014 he had to defend his good name once more, again in the unwelcome glare of the world's media.
The actor said he had "no sexual interest" in girls under 16 and was only interested in "co-operating and mature" women.
The jury of eight women and four men agreed with him.