Fame allowed Coronation Street star William Roache to carry out sex attacks on young girls and silence his victims for decades, a court has heard.
Roache, as an actor playing Ken Barlow in the ITV soap watched by millions of TV fans, had the opportunity to prey on his victims and his stardom was one reason none of his young victims spoke of the abuse, it was alleged.
Roache, 81, denies five counts of indecent assault and two counts of rape involving five girls aged between 11 or 12 and 16. The offences are said to have occurred between 1965 and 1971.
He sat in the dock listening intently as his trial began at Preston Crown Court.
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.
“It would be artificial to suggest that this fact should be divorced from this case because it cannot be,” she said.
“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.
“But just as you must not judge or dismiss the complaints because they took so long to complain, so you must not favour or condemn the defendant simply because you have heard of him or because he is over 80.
“Favour or condemn him on the evidence, not because he plays Ken Barlow.
“Do not be diverted from the integrity of your task and oath just because he is William Roache.”
Miss Whyte said: “William Roache is, as you all know, an actor. He has spent much of his adult life playing a part.
“It is very important that you remember at all times that you are here to judge the man and not the part.
“Mr Roache presents a fictional image of himself for a living – it is part and parcel of his work and fame.
“But in this room, with you, he is William Roache, not Ken Barlow. He is the defendant and you are the jury.”
She continued: “He faces seven separate criminal charges. The allegations are made by five different women – each of them says that he sexually abused them during the 1960s.
“He denies that this is the case and your task will be to decide whether these women are telling the truth.”
The barrister said the case concerned events which happened a long time ago but that did not mean the allegations were less important. 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 else to link any of the complainants, the court heard.
Miss Whyte said the Crown argues that this should be a “powerful factor” in the jury’s assessment of the evidence.
Women who do not know each other are complaining about his behaviour from the same broad period of time, she said.
The jury then heard about another alleged victim of Roache’s, now aged 63, who was just 14 in 1965 when the actor is said to have indecently assaulted her.
That summer she visited Granada Studios in central Manchester 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.
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 victim reported the matter to police last May after reading in the papers that Roache had been charged with rape.
Another of the alleged victims was sexually abused in a ladies’ toilets, the court heard.
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.
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 sister were both young victims of Roache, the jury was told.
The sisters, then aged 14 to 16, would go to Granada Studios in the school holidays, hoping to catch a glimpse of stars.
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.
Miss Whyte said that when arrested and cautioned on May 1 the defendant commented he was “absolutely surprised and amazed”. He also appeared visibly shocked, she said.
When confronted with the rape allegations he denied them.
The prosecutor said: “He told the police that he did not recognise her name or recall her in any way.
“He denied that he would ever do anything like that, referring to himself as a peaceful and gentle person.
“He categorically denied raping (the alleged victim) and ascribed her allegation to the modern climate of accusing celebrities.”
On June 6 he was re-arrested in the wake of the further allegations of indecent assault, the jury heard.
Miss Whyte said: “Before the interview he provided the police with a prepared statement.
“He denied the allegations and again asserted they did not reflect his nature which was sensitive and caring.
“He explained over the years women had expressed sexual interest in him and that he had taken the opportunity to sleep with many women but that this had always been with their consent and that he had never sought out girls under the age of 16 because such young girls did not interest him sexually.”
The trial, scheduled to last up to four weeks, continues tomorrow (January 15) when the jury will begin to hear evidence from the complainants.