CORONATION Street actor Michael Le Vell will meet the show’s management to discuss his future after being cleared of child sex abuse.
The actor, 48, had maintained his innocence throughout the trial and was acquitted of 12 child-sex offences after a jury took five hours to deliberate.
The actor, on trial under his real name, Michael Turner, faced 12 charges in all – five counts of rape, three of indecent assault, two of sexual activity with a child, and two of causing a child to engage in sexual activity.
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 yesterday.
After walking free, Le Vell, who has been in Coronation Street for 30 years, said he was “delighted” and thanked ITV for its “continued support throughout this traumatic time for all of us”. He added: “It’s a big weight off everyone’s shoulders. I might go and have a drink now.”
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.”
An ITV spokesman said: “We are looking forward to meeting with Michael to discuss his return to the programme.”
Le Vell mouthed “thank you” to the jury and raised his hand to them after he was cleared of each of the 12 counts. He held his head up as the male foreman began giving the verdicts.
On the fourth count of not guilty, he nodded his head in agreement with them. His brother and sisters, who sat in the public gallery, were in tears as the verdicts were delivered.
Le Vell, from Hale, Cheshire, looked around in confusion before he left the dock and was hugged by a supporter. Cries of relief were then heard as he left the courtroom a free man, with his family members.
His accuser, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was not in court to hear the verdicts but the “bubbly, lovely, naive” 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”.
Alisdair Williamson, defending, said the case was “a prosecution by cliche”, decrying how much had been made of Le Vell’s “demons” – his drinking and one-night stands.
The court heard of his “dark secret” – that he had enjoyed a string of one-night stands behind the back of his wife of 25 years, Janette Beverley. And he had abandoned the family home each night to get drunk in the pub.
But while Le Vell might be described as a “weak, stupid and drunk man” and a “bad husband”, he was not a child rapist, Mr Williamson told the jury. It was a “strange case of child rape” without any DNA evidence or injuries to the alleged victim, who claimed she had been raped and abused while a young girl, Mr Williamson added.
One of Le Vell’s close friends, former Coronation Street star Nigel Pivaro, who played Terry Duckworth, said: “He has suffered two years of hell,” adding: “Now the jury has spoken, he can pick up his career and his life.” Asked if had spoken to Le Vell, Mr Pivaro said: “We grabbed a moment. He didn’t say much. He was probably calmer than anyone around him.”
Earlier, Le Vell stepped out of the court building to a wall of cameras and applause and shouts of goodwill from members of the public.
Le Vell was initially arrested on 30 September 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 rearrested and charged in February.
He joined Coronation Street in 1983 and quickly endeared himself to fans, who have followed the trials and tribulations of Kevin, from his days as Brian Tilsley’s apprentice mechanic through his stormy marriage to Sally, played by Sally Dynevor.
He did not appear in any episodes of the soap during the legal proceedings.
Background: A life laid bare as courtroom saw all the drama of a TV soap
The private life of Michael Le Vell was laid bare during his trial for alleged child abuse, with revelations of his heavy drinking and adultery.
Before any evidence was heard, Manchester Crown Court was told the man in the dock before them was not the genial car mechanic Kevin Webster. The Crown suggested to him that far from being “Coronation Street’s Kevin” he was a “troubled man” who had raped and sexually assaulted a young girl.
Le Vell said it was true he was an alcoholic and philanderer who even cheated on his wife while she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. But he was not was a child abuser, the court heard.
Born in Newton Heath, Manchester, he was one of six siblings in a working class family. His mother died from a brain tumour when he was 15 and his father from lung cancer when he was 22.
Le Vell became involved in acting aged 12 by playing a part in a school production of Kes – earlier made famous by Ken Loach’s film.
Le Vell conceded he was “weak” in “certain aspects” and had problems with the “demon drink” but throughout proceedings he maintained this did not mean he was a troubled man who had committed a string of child sex offences.