'Weak and stupid but not a paedophile': Coronation Street star Michael Le Vell cleared of child rape claims

Star, who has played mechanic Kevin Webster in the soap for the past 30 years, is set to return to ITV1 show

Coronation Street star Michael Le Vell was cheered by supporters today after being cleared of child sex allegations and now looks set to resume his role in the long-running soap opera.

In emotional scenes at Manchester Crown Court, the actor mouthed the words “thank you” to the jury after it found him not guilty on all twelve charges including five of rape.

Le Vell, 48, said he was “delighted” at the verdict which he described as a “big weight off everybody's shoulders” before celebrating with a beer at a nearby hotel.

Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service national lead on child sexual exploitation, said "nobody should be above the law" and it is the Crown's job to look at evidence, follow it wherever it may go and then present it, amid criticism over decision to bring the case against Le Vell. The star was originally arrested in 2011 but proceedings against him were dropped and he was re-arrested earlier this year following a review of evidence.

"We look at the evidence. We follow the evidence. We present the evidence. I am not shy about pursuing these type of cases and will continue to do so," he said.

Le Vell's aunt and several former Coronation Street colleagues claimed he had been taken to court just because of his celebrity status.

Actor Ken Morley, who played supermarket manager Reg Holdsworth in Coronation Street, told the Daily Mail: "There was never any physical or forensic evidence or psychiatric report. I think it will make people revise their attitudes and realise there has been an element of hysteria."

Le Vell's aunt, Pat Gallier, told the same newspaper: "The police seem to be arresting celebrities and accusing them of child sex offences without seeming to check if there's enough evidence.

"Michael's been caught up in this witch-hunt."

The CPS said that it concluded there was sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and, as they were "very serious" allegations of child sexual abuse, it followed that it was in the public interest to put the evidence before a jury.

Alleged victims of sexual abuse receive lifetime anonymity even if charges are never proved. By contrast those cleared of sex crimes receive no protection sometimes after being subject to intense media coverage.

The jury took five hours to accept the defence's claim that whilst Le Vell - real name Michael Turner - was a “weak, stupid and drunk man” and a “bad husband” he was not a paedophile.

His alleged victim had sobbed in evidence as she claimed she was groomed and abused from the age of six by the star in a near decade-long ordeal culminating in a series of attacks including one in which she was raped whilst clutching a teddy bear.

But the defence poured scorn on her version of events and said that no DNA had been recovered. A medical examination also failed to reveal evidence of assault.

Judge Michael Henshell, who had previously warned the jury of eight women and four men not to be influenced by the defendant's celebrity, said they had to decide whether they believed the teenager's account.

Le Vell, who has played mechanic Kevin Webster in the soap for the past 30 years, is now expected to discuss his future with Coronation Street bosses after taking a holiday. He has not appeared in the show since his arrest.

Le Vell described how he was “fighting for his life” during the trial and fiercely denied the allegations.  He rejected prosecution claims that he was using his acting skills to convince the jury of his innocence.

The actor was hugged by family supporters on hearing the verdict.  As he was led into a media scrum outside court he paid tribute to his legal team and thanked ITV1 for its support.

The jury heard evidence of the actor's alcoholism and his acknowledgement that he had had an affair and a number of one night stands with women including whilst his wife was being treated for breast cancer.

The defence argued that the claims against him were “a pack of lies” and the allegations “inconsistent, incoherent and unbelievable”. Police found no child pornography on his computer and other parents said they felt comfortable with him being round their children.

The alleged victim was not in court to hear the verdict.

Former Coronation Street colleague Nigel Pivaro, who played Terry Duckworth, said he hoped his friend could rebuild his life: “He has suffered two years of hell and probably, also due to his high profile, far more than most.

”It has been a long journey for him. Now the jury has spoken, he can pick up his career and his life.“

A spokeswoman for Coronation Street said: ”We are looking forward to meeting with Michael to discuss his return to the programme.“

In June a jury at Liverpool Crown Court took just 29 minutes to clear former Coronation Street actor Andrew Watkinson who played Frank Foster of four counts of indecently assaulting a 15-year-old boy in the 1990s.

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