Coronation Street star William Roache “took full advantage of his stardom” to sexually abuse five young girls, a jury heard yesterday.
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 achieved fame 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 that 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. She eventually told her son about what had happened years before with the defendant.”
Her son told her to contact the police, which she eventually did, said Miss Whyte.
Roache was arrested on 1 May last year and, after being interviewed, he was charged with two offences of rape. The publicity that followed led to the other complainants coming forward.
The jury heard about the first alleged victim of Roache, who was 14 in 1965, when he is said to have indecently assaulted her.
She visited Granada Studios with a friend to take part in a talent show and afterwards saw Roache in the building and recognised him, Miss Whyte said.
“She and her friend ended up in a dressing room with the defendant and other actors.
Roache led her by the arm to the men’s toilet, where he allegedly made her commit a sex act on him. Afterwards, he sent her a letter and a signed photograph of himself, a move described by the QC as “grooming”.
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” and molested her.
It was another “unceremonious sexual act” in a risky place with a teenage girl, 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 bedroom where Roach raped her.
The second time, at the same house, Roache is alleged to have pushed her against a wall and raped her once more.
Another woman, now in her late fifties, 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 tells you something of the allure of the show and its stars,” the jury heard.
The sisters “caught the eye” of Roache, who gave them a lift home in his silver Rolls-Royce and promised them passes to the studios. One day he was alone with the elder sister in the studios. Without warning, he sexually assaulted her.
The younger sister said Roache had made her commit a sex act on him in his Rolls-Royce – then stopped the car, gave her half a crown and told her to get the bus home, Miss Whyte said.
When interviewed by police, Roache denied he was a rapist and said he was “a peaceful and gentle person”. He told detective he had slept with many women over the years, but the encounters were all consensual and he did not have a sexual interest in underage girls.
The trial continues.