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.
“If you think a victim of crime has lost the opportunity to complain because he or she did not complain at or near the time, please think again,” she said.
“A crime is a crime, whenever it takes place.
“You will know from your own experience of life, from your exposure in recent times to national news, that it is a true and real fact of life that victims of crime do not always complain immediately or at all.
“That doesn’t make them liars or attention-seekers. In due course, I shall be asking you to accept that it just makes them human.”
She added there was no “textbook or code of conduct” on how a victim should behave, even if the victim was “now a pensioner but was a star-struck teenager”.
Miss Whyte told the jury: “We simply ask you to listen to these witnesses carefully and to bear in mind whether changing attitudes and cultures, the identity of the defendant or various other factors such as a natural fear of being disbelieved or a natural fear of being the first one to take that step of picking up the phone to the police, perhaps explains why these women waited so long.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Over the years the alleged victim told a couple of relatives and her husband, the court heard.
She said, if the woman was correct in what she said, then it again showed the “opportunistic way” the defendant seemed to have chosen his moment.
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”.