A former Coronation Street actor has said he is “absolutely over the moon” after Michael Le Vell was cleared of child abuse charges.
Bruce Jones, who played Les Battersby in the long-running soap, said he was “so, so proud” of Le Vell, who he said could start rebuilding his life.
“My wife and I went to see him a month before the trial and he was quite up and he was quite adamant that he was going to clear his name and, thank God, his name has been cleared and God bless you Michael,” Jones said.
“Michael was getting support from all over the place, a lot of support, and I am so, so proud of him now that he can go back to work, get on with his life, start rebuilding his life. Remember that he has lost two years of his life.”
His remarks come after Le Vell, known to millions of TV fans as the soap’s Kevin Webster, said yesterday that he was looking forward to a drink after he was yesterday cleared of child abuse charges.
The 48-year-old mouthed the words “thank you” to the jury of eight women and four men who dismissed a string of allegations made by his accuser, who claimed she had been raped and abused while a young girl.
Le Vell kept his emotions in check as his family members in the public gallery wept, as one by one, not guilty verdicts on the 12 counts were delivered, but the strain of the seven-day trial was apparent as he appeared drained when he left the dock.
Jurors took just under five hours to reach their verdicts at Manchester Crown Court after they were told by the judge on Monday that their assessment of Le Vell’s accuser was “critical”.
They faced a stark decision on the truth as either the girl entered the witness box to recall traumatic events she had suffered or she was a dishonest person who had come to court to “quite literally destroy” the life of the defendant, said Judge Michael Henshell.
The “demons” in Le Vell’s private life were laid bare in the trial - his alcoholism and womanising while his wife battled breast cancer.
The court heard of his “dark secrets”, that he had a string of one-night stands and an affair behind the back of his wife of 25 years, actress Janette Beverley. And he abandoned the family home to drink up to nine pints in the pub most nights.
But while Le Vell might be described as a “weak, stupid and drunk man” and a “bad husband”, he was not a child rapist, his barrister Alisdair Williamson told the jury.
Alcohol was on Le Vell’s mind as he walked out of court yesterday to a media scrum and thanked his family, his legal team and his employers, ITV, before he said with a smile: “And I might go have a drink now.”
Crown prosecutor Eleanor Laws had argued Le Vell was a “troubled man” who sexually assaulted his victim but that account was rejected by the jury.
His accuser, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was not in court to hear the verdicts.
She had been described as “bubbly”, “lovely” and “naive” by the Crown after she sobbed when she gave evidence that Le Vell raped her as she clutched a teddy bear.
But the jury heard from Mr Williamson that it was a “strange case of child rape” without any DNA evidence or injuries to the alleged victim - although medical experts agreed it could not be ruled out for certain.
Le Vell, on trial under his real name of Michael Turner, had denied 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.
The star, from Hale, Cheshire, was initially arrested on September 30, 2011, but the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to proceed with the case.
After a review of the evidence following fresh allegations by the girl, Le Vell was re-arrested and charged in February this year.
Le Vell joined Coronation Street in 1983 and quickly endeared himself to fans, who have followed the trials and tribulations of Kevin, from Brian Tilsley’s apprentice mechanic through to his stormy marriage to Sally, played by Sally Dynevor.
He did not appear in any episodes of the soap during the legal proceedings.
Commenting after the case, a spokeswoman for Coronation Street said: “We are looking forward to meeting with Michael to discuss his return to the programme.”
Asked on ITV Day Break if he had been aware that Le Vell had a drink problem, Jones said: “I have been for a drink with Michael, I have never seen him go off the rails. I have been to football with him, I have played football matches with him, and I have never seen him like that.
“Maybe the last two years has put him there. Maybe the way he has been treated and the way he has been pursued by the press, I think that would turn anyone over the edge. I really don’t think Michael had that problem until the last two years.”