Coronation Street’s Michael Le Vell said he was “delighted” and it was a “big weight off everyone’s shoulders” after being cleared of child sex abuse charges.
The actor, 48, had maintained his innocence throughout and was acquitted of 12 child sex offences.
He heard the foreman of the jury deliver the not guilty verdicts to a hushed and packed courtroom at the end of an eight-day trial at Manchester Crown Court.
His accuser, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was not in court to hear the verdicts but the youngster had earlier sobbed as she claimed Le Vell, known to millions of TV fans as the soap’s Kevin Webster, raped her as she clutched a teddy bear.
Her claims were dismissed by the jury after being described in court as “inconsistent, incoherent and unbelievable”.
After walking free from court, Le Vell said he was “delighted” and thanked ITV for their “continued support throughout this traumatic time for all of us”.
“It’s a big weight off everyone’s shoulders,” he said. “I might go and have a drink now.”
Commenting after the verdicts, a spokeswoman for Coronation Street said: “We are looking forward to meeting with Michael to discuss his return to the programme.”
Asked when he would return to Coronation Street, Le Vell replied: “I don’t know, I might have a holiday first. I’ll have to go and have a chat with my boss.”
The actor, from Hale, Cheshire, who has been in the ITV soap for 30 years, faced 12 charges in all – five counts of rape, three of indecent assault, two counts of sexual activity with a child, and two of causing a child to engage in sexual activity.
Le Vell, on trial under his real name of Michael Turner, maintained his innocence throughout, telling police the girl’s claims were “an absolute pack of lies” and the jury that he was “fighting for his life”.
Le Vell mouthed “thank you” to the jury and raised his hand to them after he was cleared of each of the 12 counts.
His brother and sisters, who sat in the public gallery, were in tears as the verdicts were delivered.
The jury deliberated for just short of five hours.
During the eight-day trial, the “demons” in Le Vell’s private life were laid bare – his alcoholism and womanising while his wife battled breast cancer.