Coronation Street's Michael Le Vell said today he was "delighted" and it was a "big weight off everyone's shoulders" after he was cleared of child sex abuse charges following a trial at Manchester Crown Court.
The actor, 48, who enjoyed a "luxury, charmed life", had maintained his innocence throughout and was acquitted of 12 serious child sex offences.
Loading article content
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.
His victim, 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.
He said the defendant in the witness box was clearly a "scared and frightened" innocent man accused of "the most unbelievable and terrible thing".
After walking free from court, Le Vell said he was "delighted" and thanked ITV for their "continued support throughout this traumatic time for all of us".
"It's a big weight off everyone's shoulders," he said.
"I might go and have a drink now."
Commenting after the verdicts, a spokeswoman for Coronation Street said: "We are looking forward to meeting with Michael to discuss his return to the programme."
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."
The actor, from Hale, Cheshire, who has been in the ITV soap for 30 years, faced 12 charges in all - five counts of rape, three of indecent assault, two counts of sexual activity with a child and two of causing a child to engage in sexual activity.
Le Vell, on trial under his real name of Michael Turner, had maintained his innocence throughout, telling police the girl's claims were "an absolute pack of lies" and the jury that he was "fighting for his life".
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.
One man shouted "Get in" when the last verdict was read out.
Le Vell looked round 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.
The jury deliberated for just short of five hours.
During the eight day trial the "demons" in Le Vell's private life were laid bare - his alcoholism and womanising while his wife battled breast cancer.
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 to get drunk in the pub each night.
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.
Le Vell was initially arrested on September 30, 2011, but the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to proceed with the case.
But after a review of the evidence following fresh allegations by the girl, Le Vell was re-arrested and charged in February 2013.
He first joined Coronation Street in 1983 and quickly endeared himself to fans, who have followed the trials and tribulations of Kevin, from Brian Tilsley's apprentice mechanic through to his stormy marriage to Sally, played by Sally Dynevor.
He did not appear in any episodes of the soap during the legal proceedings.
Le Vell's private life has been laid bare during his child abuse trial 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 Coronation Street's genial car mechanic Kevin Webster.
The 48-year-old soap actor later himself agreed with the prosecutor that was not the case and when he left the witness box the eight women and four men on the jury bench were too under no illusions he was not the character he plays.
Appearing under his real name of Michael Robert Turner, the Crown suggested to him that far from being "Coronation Street Kevin" he was in fact a "troubled man" who had raped and sexually assaulted a young girl.
Le Vell responded that it was true he was an alcoholic and a serial philanderer who even cheated on his wife while she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.
But what 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.
Three of his sisters - one has died - and his brother sat in the public gallery during the trial to give their support.
His mother died from a brain tumour when he was 15 and his father from lung cancer when he was 22.
Le Vell said he became involved in acting aged 12 after playing a part in a school production of Kes - earlier made famous by Ken Loach's film portrayal.
It led to a stint at Oldham Theatre Workshop, which has also produced star actresses Anna Friel and Suranne Jones, and performances at the town's Coliseum Theatre.
In the early days of his career he also worked in a men's boutique and as a plasterer's labourer.
He got his first role on the cobbles of Weatherfield at the age of 15 and later the part of Kevin Webster which he has played for 30 years.
After he joined the ITV1 soap in 1983, he quickly endeared himself to fans who have followed the trials and tribulations of Kevin from being Brian Tilsley's apprentice mechanic through to his stormy marriage to Sally, played by Sally Dynevor, and fathering two girls, Rosie and Sophie.
Irregular working shift patterns with many free days and nights, coupled with plenty of spare cash, Le Vell confessed he would hit the pub throughout his career and his 25-year marriage to actress Janette Beverley.
Le Vell explained: ''I have a working class mentality. I'm a bloke.
''After work I want to wind down for a hour or two.
''I know it sounds chauvinistic but that is how I was brought up.''
It was not the odd pint or two before tea though but seven or eight pints a session, he said.
He recognised he had a drink problem and had twice attended Alcoholics Anonymous but concluded "it's not worked out for me".
"Both lasted two weeks, each attempt," he said.
''I think the last time was about three years ago... the other time was three years prior to that.''
He also had difficulty in staying faithful in his marriage and said his reference to a secret he could not be forgiven for was to a number of one-night stands, rather than the sexual offences he was accused of and which he denied.
Father-of-two Le Vell told his barrister: ''I had several one-night stands throughout our marriage through difficult times.
''When you go home with that guilt and you have got to pretend you have done nothing wrong on a weekend away, it eats away at you a little bit.
''That was the little secret. One-night stands."
He also confessed to having an affair while his wife was being treated for cancer and then walking out of the family home.
Those events uncannily mirrored a Coronation Street storyline in which he had an affair with a character called Molly Dobbs while his on-screen wife, Sally Webster, developed breast cancer.
Ahead of his trial, there have been several tabloid newspaper reports saying Le Vell, from Hale, Cheshire, is in an on-off relationship with 31-year-old Chilean teaching assistant named Blanca Fouche.
Le Vell conceded he was "weak" in "certain aspects" and had problems with the "demon drink" but throughout he maintained this did not mean he was a troubled man who had committed a string of child sex offences.