Off the hook: Bill Roach, the soap actor who plays Ken Barlow in the world’s longest-running TV soap opera, Coronation Street, was cleared of sexually abusing children. *AFP photo
Off the hook: Bill Roach, the soap actor who plays Ken Barlow in the world’s longest-running TV soap opera, Coronation Street, was cleared of sexually abusing children. *AFP photo

One of Britain’s best-known TV actors, Bill Roach, has been cleared of sexually assaulting several young girls back in the 1960s and 1970s. The 81-year-old is the third member of the cast from the soap Coronation Street to be charged and later cleared of using their star status to exploit youngsters. The recent spate of British celebrities being charged with past sex crimes has come after Operation Yewtree exposed a catalogue of sordid crimes committed by children’s presenter Jimmy Savile. Simon Jones, drawing from UK news reports, provides the context.

What is Operation Yewtree?

A a police investigation into sexual abuse allegations, predominantly the abuse of children, against the British media personality Jimmy Savile, who died in 2011, and others. The investigation led by the Metropolitan Police Service started in October 2012. The operation involved 30 police officers, and its cost so far was estimated at about £2 million.

What did it find?

On 19 October 2012 the Metropolitan Police reported that more than 400 lines of enquiry had been assessed and over 200 potential victims had been identified. By 19 December, eight people had been questioned; the total number of alleged victims was 589, of whom 450 alleged abuse by Savile.

Who else has been arrested in connection with Operation Yewtree?

Former pop star and convicted sex offender Gary Glitter was arrested as part of the investigations into Savile on 28 October 2012.

Comedian Freddie Starr has been arrested on two occasions by police probing allegations of sexual abuse from the past.

DJ Dave Lee Travis was charged in August 2013 with 12 historical sex offences, which he denies. He is
currently awaiting a verdict after his trial.

Publicist Max Clifford was arrested as part of Operation Yewtree, on suspicion of sexual offences, and charged with 11 indecent assaults against girls and young women between 1965 and 1985. He denies all charges.

Comedian Jim Davidson and DJ Mike Osman were arrested in January 2013 but were later told they would face no further action. 

Rolf Harris was charged with 13 separate offences relating to the abuse of minors and is due to stand trial shortly. He has denied the charges.

And Comedian Jimmy Tarbuck was arrested after an Operation Yewtree file was passed to them concerning a claim he sexually abused a young boy
in the 1970s.

Is Operation Yewtree linked to the decision to prosecute the three actors from Coronation Street?

The investigations are not strictly linked, but the decision to bring charges against Coronation Street actors William Roache, Michael Le Vell and Andrew Lancel came at a time when Operation Yewtree was in full swing. And it has prompted claims from the acquitted television stars, as well as their supporters, that prosecutors had embarked on a witch-hunt to target actors in the public eye and pin crimes on them they had not committed. All three men were cleared of all offences, which they had denied throughout the course of their respective trials. Outside court last week Mr Roache said: “In these situations there are no winners... we should be much kinder to ourselves. If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work.”

What has been the response of prosecutors to claims they had led a witch-hunt?

Prosecutors have repeatedly denied claims of a witch-hunt. After William Roache was cleared last week Nazir Afzal, chief prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service North West, said: “We have a duty to those who make complaints of serious offences to listen to the allegations... no matter who makes the complaint, or who the complaint is against.

“This case was treated like any other — what mattered were the allegations and the evidence and nothing else, and we fully respect the decisions of the jury and thank them for their careful deliberation.” n

Sources: BBC, Wikipedia, Telegraph, Guardian