Barely had the high drama and emotion subsided after Coronation Street star William Roache was cleared of rape and indecent assault charges than a ferocious debate has erupted on whether the case should have been brought at all.
Mr Roache’s accusers presented inconsistent and contradictory evidence. A fifth charge was dropped due to insufficient evidence after the woman, who accused him of abusing her in his car, told the court she had “no actual memory” of the episode. Should not the police have tested the allegations of his accusers more thoroughly and made sure the case was more robust before bringing it to court?
Now that a jury has found him not guilty, Mr Roache was able to walk from Preston Crown Court a free and vindicated man. But such was the intensity of public interest in this case the black clouds that have hung over his name and reputation between his arrest and the verdict yesterday are unlikely to be totally dispelled.
For any man this would have been a deeply punishing experience. For Mr Roache, at 81, it must have been close to unendurable. In a measured and dignified statement yesterday he said there were no winners in this case.
That is certainly true on a personal level. But cruel and harrowing though this experience will have been for him, justice emerged the winner. For the spectre that hung over this case and indeed, other cases of this sort, is that of the Savile affair. For years a fêted television celebrity was able to perpetrate a whole series of outrageous violations of young girls. The potent reaction in the aftermath of that case was widespread public anger that Savile had not been confronted before and that in future the police should not be seen to show any particular favour to well-known public figures. Indeed, the process of law had to be pressed with even greater rigour given the public suspicion that the police and other authorities were unwilling to prosecute those who enjoyed celebrity status. Given the extent and duration of Savile’s crimes and widespread disgust that he was able to continue unchallenged for so long, it is important that this suspicion is addressed and public confidence in the law is restored. This may seem in the case of Bill Roache a harsh and heartless consequence – though he did not help himself with bizarre comments on a New Zealand television interview in which he appeared to suggest that victims of abuse were being punished for actions in past lives.
But in these unusual circumstances it is surely right that prosecutors lean in favour of letting the courts and the process of law decide on innocence and guilt.
For Mr Roache, the small consolation is a wave of considerable public sympathy for the ordeal that he has endured. He has enjoyed an illustrious career as the UK’s longest-serving television soap actor and it is to be hoped that he will be allowed to resume his distinctive and popular contribution.
UK mustn’t put recovery at risk
After surprise tumbles in unemployment and a shoal of upbeat business confidence surveys, the heavyweight National Institute of Economic and Social Research is the latest forecaster to raise its estimates for growth, both for this year and next. It also predicts unemployment will fall below the per cent threshold, allowing Bank of England Governor Mark Carney to raise interest rates.
The report, which also points to strengthening global growth, provides further encouragement to business that recovery is well in train.
But as Mr Carney has pointed out, this was not a normal recession and this is not a straightforward recovery. The fact that he has sought to discourage speculation on any early rise in rates underlines his point that the patient is still in intensive care.
And the NIESR report itself comes with notable caveats. It says the recovery has been fuelled by the rapid expansion in consumer spending, now expected to grow at its fastest rate since 2003, driven mainly by a buoyant housing market rather than an increase in real wages.
These are still some 8 per cent below what they were at their peak at the end of 2009, and it will still be a number of years yet before real consumer wages recover.
The report also raises serious concerns about productivity, currently lagging international competitors. And if we do not see a recovery in productivity we may well see a continued downward trend in real wages, which would put a sustained recovery at risk. The NIESR does not expect a rise in rates until next year. For these reasons the UK needs to take care to avoid behaviour that would put the recent upturn at risk.