CORONATION Street star William Roache said there were "no winners" after he was cleared of historic sex offences against five women.
Roache, 81, who plays Ken Barlow in the ITV soap, was found not guilty by a jury of two counts of rape and four counts of indecent assault following a four-week trial at Preston Crown Court.
Speaking outside the court yesterday, he said: "I have just got one thing to say - in these situations there are no winners and I think we should all be much kinder to ourselves. Now if you will excuse me I would like to get back to work."
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Several members of the jury that took just short of six hours to clear him watched as he read out a statement.
He thanked his employers, ITV, his legal team, family, friends and colleagues for their support, as well as those people he did not know who had wished him well.
Roache did not respond when asked if the trial had been "a witch-hunt".
In her closing speech to the jury, prosecutor Anne Whyte said that if Roache was telling the truth and the complainants were all liars then he could be seen as a victim of "a huge, distorted, perverse witch-hunt".
Roache, wearing a blue suit and the same blue-and-white tie he had worn for every day of the trial, showed no reaction as the foreman of the jury of eight women and four men read out the not guilty verdicts.
When the last verdict was delivered, his younger son James dissolved into tears with a hand over his face, elder son Linus wiped away tears and younger daughter Verity was hugged by her boyfriend before she also began to. cry. One of Roache's minders sprang to his feet, shouted "Yes!" and began to clap.
Roache then left the dock and walked to the door of the courtroom, where he was embraced by his minder and for the first time he smiled broadly.
The Coronation Street veteran was alleged by the Crown to have used his fame and popularity to exploit the "starstruck" girls, aged 16 and under, between the mid-60s and early-70s.
The women told jurors they were sexually abused by the defendant either at Granada Studios in Manchester, in his car or at properties he owned.
He was said to have raped one complainant at his then bungalow in Lancashire when she was 15. She said he raped her again in an adjoining cottage.
Three of the indecent assaults were alleged to have taken place inside Granada Studios - in the gents toilets, ladies toilets and a dressing room - while the fourth was said to have happened in his Rolls-Royce when he gave a lift home to a complainant.
However, Roache told the jury he had no knowledge of any of the women and the alleged abuse simply did not happen.
He said he was astounded and horrified at his arrest on suspicion of rape at his home in Wilmslow, Cheshire, on May 1 last year.
ITV said he would not appear in the show until legal proceedings were concluded. After the verdicts, a spokesman for the channel said: "We look forward to talking to Bill soon about his return to work."
The widespread publicity of the arrest led to four other women coming forward to allege they too had been victims in the same era.
Roache was arrested again last June and then charged with five counts of indecent assault. But the world's longest-serving soap actor - who has appeared in Coronation Street since its 1960 launch - told the jury sexual abuse was not in his nature and he had no interest in under-age girls.
Louise Blackwell, QC, defending, said the case against her client was 'nonsense', with the trial haunted by the spectre of Jimmy Savile.
Criticism of police and prosecutors over Savile's impunity despite years of suspicion of sex abuse meant accusations against other celebrities had to end in a trial, it was suggested.
Miss Blackwell said: "In the post-Jimmy Savile era, once someone makes an allegation, it's got to go to court, no sense will prevail, it has to go to court."
Glowing testimonies about Roache's "caring" nature were given in evidence by three of his Coronation Street co-stars, including Anne Kirkbride, who plays his on-screen wife Deirdre.