Roache 'took advantage of his fame'

Mid Devon Star: Coronation Street actor William Roache arrives at Preston Crown Court Coronation Street actor William Roache arrives at Preston Crown Court

Coronation Street star William Roache "took full advantage of his stardom" to sexually abuse five young girls, a jury heard today.

His fame and popularity were said to have silenced his "star-struck" victims for decades until the Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall scandals emerged.

Roache, 81, denies five historic counts of indecent assault and two historic counts of rape involving the complainants when they were aged between 11 or 12 and 16. The offences are said to have occurred between 1965 and 1971, at a time when he had already achieved fame for playing Ken Barlow in the ITV soap.

The defendant allegedly used his celebrity status to "flatter" the girls, Preston Crown Court was told.

A 14-year-old was sexually assaulted in the men's toilets of Granada Studios in Manchester after taking part in a talent show there, jurors heard.

Another victim was said to be a young autograph-hunter whom Roache abused in his silver Rolls-Royce before he stopped the car and "gave her half a crown (12.5p) and told her to get to the bus home".

Anne Whyte QC, opening the case for the prosecution, told the jury of eight women and four men they were "bound to know" the defendant is a household name but William Roache was on trial - not Ken Barlow.

"You may well conclude by the end of this trial that William Roache's fame and popularity provided not only the opportunity for his offending but that it is one of the predominant reasons for his victims' decades of silence," she said.

The prosecutor said the first complainant in the case contacted the police last March.

She said: "In the context of discussing other sex scandals involving the late Cyril Smith and Jimmy Savile, her son had expressed disbelief about how long it had taken for victims of sexual offences to come forward.

"His mother tried to explain, and in this case she knows. She eventually told her son about what had happened many years before with the defendant."

Her son told her to contact the police, which she eventually did, said Miss Whyte.

Roache was arrested on May 1 and, after being interviewed, he was charged with two offences of rape.

The publicity that followed led to the other complainants coming forward.

Apart from two of the alleged victims who were sisters, there was nothing to link any of the complainants, the court heard.

The jury heard about the first alleged victim of Roache who was aged 14 in 1965 when he is said to have indecently assaulted her.

That summer she visited Granada Studios with a friend to take part in a talent show and afterwards she saw Roache in the building and recognised him, Miss Whyte said.

"She was naturally impressed," the prosecutor said.

"She and her friend ended up in a dressing room with the defendant and other actors.

"She recounts, perhaps unsurprisingly, about how she felt flattered by the attention."

Both left the room and he led her by the arm to the men's toilet, where he allegedly made her commit a sex act on him.

"There was no conversation and they went back to the dressing room where her friend was still chatting to an actor.

"Then both men left the room and she and her friend made their way out of the building.

"She had been stunned by what had occurred and went home."

Afterwards, Roache sent her a letter and signed photograph of himself, which will be shown to the jury.

But this was not a "benign personal touch" by a "well-known young male actor", the court heard.

Instead it was a deliberate act, Miss Whyte said, "designed to impress a young schoolgirl and to secure her unquestioning loyalty as a fan for a sexual purpose. A sort of grooming, as we would nowadays call it".

The girl felt "flattered", even though she knew what had happened was wrong.

"This, the Crown say, demonstrates how easy it is for someone in the defendant's position to manipulate the trust and attention of star-struck teenagers," the court heard.

Another of the alleged victims was sexually abused in a ladies' toilets, the court heard.

Roache walked in behind her and "before she had the chance to say anything he used his chest to push her backwards against the wall of one of the cubicles".

"He pushed his hand up her jumper and started to fondle one of her breasts over her bra," said Miss Whyte.

It was another "unceremonious sexual act" in a risky place with a teenage girl with Roache "using his position and fame to try and obtain a continuation of sexual gratification" where he was "plainly sexually unrestrained", she said.

The court then heard about the two most serious offences of rape.

The victim, aged 15 and a virgin at the time of the alleged offences in 1967, told police that she was at a house in Lancashire and "without any preliminaries" was led to a double bedroom.

"He pushed her on to a bed, moved her knickers to one side and had vaginal intercourse with her," the prosecutor said.

"He did not attempt to kiss her or sweet-talk her in any way.

"She describes it being uncomfortable and feeling panic-stricken. She had never had sex before."

Afterwards it was as if nothing had happened, the court heard.

The second time, at the same house, Roache is alleged to have pushed her against a wall and raped her once more.

"When it was over, she ran out," Miss Whyte said.

Another woman, now in her late 50s, and her younger sister were both young victims of Roache, the jury was told.

The sisters would go to Granada Studios in the school holidays in the hope of catching a glimpse of stars.

"That fact, in itself, tells you something of the allure of the show and its stars even in those early days of the 1960s," the jury heard.

The sisters "caught the eye" of Roache, who gave them a lift home in his Rolls-Royce and promised to get them passes to the studios.

When he did so, one day he was alone with the elder sister in the studios. Without warning, he pushed himself against his victim, fondled her breasts and put his hand up her skirt and into her knickers.

The youngster convinced him to stop and she never returned to the studios.

The alleged victim spoke to her sister about it at the time and after the scandals broke over Jimmy Savile and Stuart Hall.

"She too was clearly of the opinion that no one until recently would have believed her," Miss Whyte said.

But a combination of events gave her the courage to pick up the phone and call police, the jury heard, partly because of comments made by Roache in a TV interview which "grated" with her and partly because other women had come forward.

The younger sister said on another occasion she stood outside Granada Studios with a friend in the hope of getting an autograph.

Roache offered them a lift home in his silver Rolls-Royce and the complainant sat in the front.

She described how she felt "frozen and petrified" as he made her commit a sex act on him.

Miss Whyte said he stopped the car afterwards, gave her half a crown and told her to get the bus home.

The younger sister said something "remarkably similar" to one of the other complainants when she was interviewed by detectives.

"She said 'I feel intimidated because people feel he is some kind of super actor and they think he's lovely and always "William Roache what a good man he is", you know, you don't stand a chance if you went forward," said the prosecutor.

The court heard the woman had first told her husband about the alleged Rolls-Royce incident in the late 1970s.

He wanted her to go to the police but she did not want to cause trouble and was "scared to take such a step".

But early last year he urged her to again make a complaint after he watched a television interview the defendant gave in New Zealand.

The prosecutor said: "He interpreted some of the remarks made by the defendant as a suggestion that back in the old days young girls were throwing themselves at him and that they were all sexually active."

"Sufficiently provoked", the husband - without his wife's knowledge - contacted the Sunday Mirror newspaper about the allegation.

She finally wemt to the police when news of Roache's initial arrest emerged.

When interviewed by police, Roache denied he was a rapist and said he was "a peaceful and gentle person".

He went on to tell detectives that women had expressed a sexual interest in him over the years and he had taken the opportunity to sleep with many women.

But, he added, those encounters were all consensual and he did not have a sexual interest in underage girls.

Concluding her opening, Miss Whyte said: "If at any stage of the trial, as we anticipate, it is suggested to you that these complainants are lying and on some sort of Jimmy Savile bandwagon, we would ask you to ask yourselves why?

"Why would they expose themselves to this? Being questioned and cross-examined after so many years of privacy and why, if they are lying, is there compelling evidence that although they did not report it to the police, they did tell other people about it, often much nearer the time?

"It is the Crown's case that the defendant took full advantage of his stardom and took advantage of these complainants at a time in his life when he thought he could.

"He assumed that they would remain silent and for decades that seemed to have been a safe but knowing assumption on his part. After all, as they would put it, who would believe them?

"Well, things change and we will be asking you to believe them. Once you have heard their evidence the prosecution say that you can and will be satisfied that William Roache, in denying his guilt, continues to play a part and vest his own interests in fiction."

Roache sat in the dock listening to the opening remarks, with his children Linus, James and Verity supporting him from the public gallery.

Fellow Coronation Street actors Anne Kirkbride (Deirdre Barlow), Chris Gascoigne (Peter Barlow) and Helen Worth (Gail McIntyre) are set to give evidence for the defence.

The trial, scheduled to last up to four weeks, continues tomorrow when the jury will begin to hear evidence from the complainants.

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