The Coronation Street actor Michael Le Vell has been cleared of raping a young girl and subjecting her to other serious sexual assaults over a number of years.
Le Vell, 48, who plays the car mechanic Kevin Webster in the ITV soap, said the teenager was a fantasist whose allegations were seeking to ruin him. He was cleared of all the charges against him.
Moments before the verdicts were announced a group of his relatives clasped hands in the public gallery. The actor merely nodded as the first “not guilty” was delivered.
On the second occasion he looked up towards the courtroom ceiling. Once he heard the final acquittal he smiled, looked over towards the jury and mouthed the words: “Thank you.”
In the witness box at Manchester crown court, Le Vell, appearing under his real name, Michael Turner, said the case had left him “fighting for his life”.
The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told her mother of the alleged assaults in September 2011.
She later told police Le Vell had first attacked her when she was six. In the witness box, she repeatedly broke down as she gave a graphic account of being raped while clutching one of her teddy bears.
As the alleged assault continued, she told the court, the actor pressed another of her teddies against her mouth, telling her: “It’s OK, just keep calm, stay asleep … I’m going to get rid of the evil.”
Le Vell’s barrister, Alisdair Williamson, poured scorn on what he said was a number of inconsistencies in the complainant’s account of being attacked.
Williamson said the girl had told one family friend the attack happened when she was 10, and told other people it happened 10 times. He said: “There’s an agonising lack of detail from this witness. She can’t give you details because it did not happen, and that’s why her story varies according to who she’s talking to.”
Williamson added: “Had she really been raped as a young child it would have been extremely painful. There wasn’t even a muffled scream. She just didn’t make a sound. Is that real?”
Despite his acquittal, Le Vell left the court with his reputation damaged after the jury heard of his alcoholism and a string of marital infidelities.
Williamson was forced to acknowledge of his client: “He is a man, not a character; a weak man, a stupid man, a drunk man.”
Outside the court building Le Vell said: “I’m delighted, obviously – it’s a big weight off everyone’s shoulders.
“I’d just like to thank my fantastic legal team, my family for their support, security, and I’d like to thank ITV for their continued support throughout this traumatic time for all of us.”
To the sound of laughter from supporters and onlookers, he added: “I’d like to thank you all for being patient – and I might go for a drink now!’
Asked when he might return to Coronation Street, Le Vell replied: “I don’t know. I may have a holiday first. I’ll have a talk with my boss.” Moments later he was ushered into a limousine and driven away.
The jury had taken just under five hours to acquit him on all charges.