Coronation Street star Bill Roache said there were “no winners” after he was cleared of all charges of sexually abusing five youngsters.
Flanked by his family on the steps of Preston Crown Court, Roache said: “I have just got one thing to say, in these situations there are no winners and I think we should all be much kinder to ourselves. Now if you excuse me I would like to get back to work.”
Friends and colleagues of the actor, who plays Ken Barlow in the ITV soap, also expressed their relief and support after the not guilty verdicts – and looked forward to his return to TV.
Beverley Callard, known as the Street’s Liz McDonald, said: “Ken, there’s a pint waiting for you in The Rovers. Love ya.”
Charlie Condou, who plays Marcus Dent, wrote online: “So glad and relieved the right verdict was reached. Look forward to seeing Bill back at work.”
The 81-year-old star was cleared of two counts of rape and four counts of indecent assault following a four-week trial which heard claims he 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.
But Roache told the jury he had no knowledge of any of the women and the alleged abuse simply did not happen.
Roache said he was “astounded” and “horrified” at his arrest on suspicion of rape at his home in Wilmslow on May 1 last year.
The widespread publicity of the arrest led to four other women coming forward to allege they too had been victims in the same era and ITV announced he would not appear in the programme until legal proceedings were concluded.
Roache was arrested again last June and then charged with five counts of indecent assault.
But the world’s longest-serving soap actor – who has appeared in Coronation Street since its 1960 launch – told the jury sexual abuse was not in his “nature” and he had no interest in underage girls.
Glowing testimonies about Roache’s “caring” and “lovely” nature were given in evidence by three of his Coronation Street co-stars including Anne Kirkbride, who plays his on-screen wife Deirdre.
It was not credible, the jury was told, that the “perfect gentleman” and “father figure” they described had been a “sexual predator”.
And the “inconsistencies and contradictions” of each complainant’s “story” was picked apart under cross-examination.
During the trial the prosecution offered no evidence on one of two counts of indecent assault, relating to one complainant, as she had “no actual memory of the episode”.
It had also heard one complainant claiming she recalled seeing an actor, who played the character Jed Stone, near to a dressing room ahead of the alleged assault on her by Roache. But Kenneth Cope, who played Stone, told the jury he had never seen two young girls with Roache, and neither had he been in a dressing room with the defendant.
The involvement of the press was also highlighted.
The husband of one complainant, whose sister was also allegedly abused, contacted the papers before the police – which “coloured” their allegations, Louise Blackwell QC, defending, said.
After Roache’s initial arrest for rape was “all over the press” she asked the jury whether any of the other women who came forward later could be regarded as “truly independent.”
A TV confession by Roache that he had bedded up to 1,000 women was ruled too prejudicial to put before the jury. Revelations about his womanising past to broadcaster Piers Morgan attracted a huge amount of publicity when screened by ITV in April 2012.
The 81-year-old explained his infidelity caused the breakdown of his first marriage to actress Anna Cropper in the late 1960s. He added he could not control his sex drive at the time.
Bill Roache is the third Coronation Street actor inside 12 months to face child sex allegations and be cleared of all charges.
Michael Le Vell, 48, who plays mechanic Kevin Webster, was alleged to have raped his victim while she clutched a teddy bear – but her claims were dismissed after being described in court as “inconsistent, incoherent and unbelievable”.
Andrew Lancel, 42, who had played Frank Foster, was cleared of four counts of indecent assault from 1994.
• Rape Crisis, a charity supporting victims of sex offences, can be contacted on 0808 802 9999