Clegg defends CPS in row over Bill Roache charges

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DEPUTY Prime Minister Nick Clegg has mounted a robust defence of the Crown Prosecution Service after Coronation Street star William Roache was cleared of sex offences.

Mr Clegg, who is the MP for Sheffield Hallam, maintained that it was right that cases were played out in court when there was considered to be a “reasonable chance” of securing a conviction.

Roache, 81, who plays Ken Barlow in the ITV soap, was found not guilty on Thursday of two counts of rape and four counts of indecent assault.

On his regular LBC radio phone-in yesterday morning, the Liberal Democrat leader said: “I understand why people are saying why on Earth has this case been brought... but the CPS have got a really really difficult job.

“Just imagine if they were not taking cases forward where really serious allegations were made. They would be subject to a huge amount of criticism for not taking those allegations. That is the way the justice system works.”

The veteran actor was alleged to have used his fame and popularity to exploit the “starstruck” girls, aged 16 and under, between the mid-60s and early-70s.

The women told jurors they were sexually abused by the defendant either at Granada Studios in Manchester, in his car or at properties he owned.

Mr Clegg maintained that CPS lawyers were right to pursue the case, even thought the veteran actor had been acquitted, and added: “I wasn’t in court. I am not a lawyer.

“Of course the CPS will need to look at everything that came to light in the court an really stress test whether they did all the necessary due diligence and all the right homework.

“But I will always defend the right of the CPS to say, look this is a case of sufficient seriousness, we think there is sufficient evidence that there is a reasonable chance of this being followed through to a conviction – it should now be played out in court. That is what a court is there for.”

Speaking on the steps of Preston Crown Court after he was cleared, Roache claimed there were “no winners” in cases such as the one he had faced. Nazir Afzal, chief crown prosecutor for CPS North West, insisted the case had been “treated like any other”.

During the trial, Louise Blackwell QC, who defended Roche, claimed the case was haunted by the “spectre” of Jimmy Savile. It was suggested criticism of police and prosecutors over Savile’s impunity despite years of suspicions of sex abuse meant accusations against other celebrities had to end in a trial. The Rape Crisis charity also said “it would be a shame” if women felt less able to report allegations as a result of a backlash following the case.

paul.jeeves@ypn.co.uk