Coronation Street star William Roache was “sticking to his script” when lying that he did not sexually abuse five girls, a jury heard yesterday.
Roache, 81, who plays Ken Barlow in the ITV soap, is accused of using his fame and popularity to exploit “starstruck” youngsters nearly 50 years ago.
His trial has heard that the complainants, who did not know each other, apart from two sisters, claimed they had been assaulted while at Granada Studios in Manchester, in his car or at properties he owned.
Prosecutor Anne Whyte QC began her closing speech at Preston Crown Court to the jury of eight women and four men with the observation: “Well, members of the jury, someone is lying.
“Five complainants have made sexual allegations against William Roache. He is emphatic that it just did not happen. He either did it or he did not. He is lying or literally all of them are.”
If he was telling the truth, he was the victim of a “huge, distorted and perverse witch-hunt” at the hands of five women from all parts of the country.
She continued: “One important question you have to ask yourselves is who has the most to gain in lying?
“Is it someone like [an alleged victim] or is it the enduringly popular Mr Roache?
“Who, of all the witnesses, is most used to rehearsing what he has to say and sticking to his script? Is it someone like [another alleged victim] or is it the actor William Roache, a man who has spent his entire life learning lines and delivering them for public consumption?”
Roache, from Wilmslow, Cheshire, denies two counts of rape and four counts of indecent assault involving girls aged 16 and under between the mid-1960s and early 1970s.
Miss Whyte said Roache’s fame was “highly relevant”. “These offences, frankly, would not have happened if he was not famous,” she said. “He had become a national, good-looking heart-throb in the 1960s.”
She said the girls would not have been in his proximity if he had been a “street cleaner”. She said: “His celebrity set the stage for what was to happen.”
She added that by 1965, his “instant stardom” and resulting “adulation” had probably “massaged his sexual ego”.
“He was probably already reaping the rewards of his sexual irresistibility,” she told the jury.
“You are here to judge William Roache in the 1960s when he was a young man with looks, fame and appetite. That gave him the motivation and opportunity to behave improperly.” She told the jurors they may think Roache would have assumed the complainants were “struck by his fame”.
“You may think that it was not probably difficult to persuade himself that he was so attractive, [that] he was not really doing something so wrong.
“We say he was sexually presumptuous.”
She said his fame “put him out of reach” because anyone he touched sexually without consent “would probably not have the guts to complain”.
“Once he had got away with it once or twice, it would not discourage him from trying again,” she continued. She said times had changed and this explained the “decades of silence” from the complainants. Referring to character evidence given by Coronation Street co-stars who knew Roache from the 1970s onwards, she told the jury they had heard “what a lovely chap he is”.
But they had to “judge a man from a different time”.
Roache was hardly likely to sexually assault a teenager in front of colleagues, she added.
The prosecutor said that if Roache was telling the truth, then three of the complainants “must be mad”.
Louise Blackwell QC is expected to give her closing speech for the defence today.