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Stuart Hall cleared of raping young girls

Convicted paedophile Stuart Hall was cleared by a jury today of a string of rapes and sexual assaults.

Hall, 84, made no reaction as he was convicted of one indecent assault but cleared of 15 rapes and four other indecent assaults by a jury of eight women and four men following seven hours and 15 minutes of deliberations.

At the start of the trial he had pleaded guilty to one other count of indecent assault.

The former BBC broadcaster mouthed 'Thank you' to the jury at Preston Crown Court at the end of the two-week trial as he was led away to the cells to continue serving his sentence for earlier offences.

Hall wearing a dark suit, white shirt and striped tie, sat impassively in the dock, legs crossed, hands resting on his lap, as he was told he will be sentenced for the one charge he was convicted of next Friday, before trial judge Mr Justice Turner.

The former It's A Knockout presenter and BBC Radio 5 Live football match summariser was not due to be released until September.

He was taken from custody in Leyland, Lancashire, last October and was questioned about allegations from the two complainants who came forward after his conviction last year.

He was then charged with numerous counts of rape and indecent assault, which he denied.

Both girls and their families were known to the defendant.

Hall, from Wilmslow, Cheshire, chose not to give evidence from the witness box as his defence team questioned whether the case was "a persecution" rather than a prosecution.

The broadcaster - who was then in his mid-40s - said the sex with the girls in their mid-teens was consensual.

Many of the encounters were at BBC television studios in Manchester - at Piccadilly and at Oxford Road - where Hall presented the corporation's regional news programme.

Hall's barrister Crispin Aylett QC questioned why both girls would continually return to the BBC studios and suggested it was because they enjoyed the "charming" and "charismatic" company of the "larger-than-life" defendant.

He said the sexual activity was wrong but Hall was not a rapist.

Last year, Preston Crown Court heard that Hall indecently assaulted a 15-year-old girl at Oxford Road and also exploited his BBC connections to sexually exploit three other girls.

A detailed investigation into Hall's conduct at the BBC is being carried out by retired High Court judge Dame Linda Dobbs.

Hall was initially given a 15-month prison term last year but the Court of Appeal ruled the sentence was "inadequate" and it was doubled a month later.

The appeal judges were told that Hall was "not in particularly robust health" and could die in prison. The married father of two was stripped of his OBE for broadcasting and charity in the wake of his convictions.

He was a familiar face and voice in British broadcasting for half a century, and his eccentric and erudite football match summaries made him a cult figure on BBC Radio 5 Live.

He also wrote a weekly sport column for the Radio Times until his arrest.

Last summer, Preston Crown Court heard that Hall directly exploited his role as a popular BBC presenter with a "genial personality" to target four of his victims, while he assaulted another four on the pretence of giving elocution lessons to them at his home.

When arrested, the broadcaster told police the complainants were all lying as part of "a vendetta going on against people in the public eye".

He later told the press that the claims against him, dating back to 1967, were "cruel, pernicious and spurious'' before he finally admitted his guilt.

Detectives and Crown Prosecution Service lawyers looked ashen faced after the not guilty verdicts were delivered.

Hall was already serving a sentence of 30 months after admitting 14 counts of indecent assault against 13 girls aged nine to 17.

But he maintained throughout the two women who later came forward to claim they were raped had agreed to consensual sex.

In an opening statement to the jury at the trial, Hall's barrister Mr Aylett said all the allegations his client faced came under the Sexual Offences Act 1956.

That act provided for offences of rape and indecent assault but also unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 16, he said.

He said the above law also came with an "important restriction" - a 12-month limit when a complaint could be made from the time of the offence.

Mr Aylett said if Hall had been investigated for the offences at the time, he would have been guilty of unlawful sex with a girl under 16.

He said: "Unfortunately, rightly or wrongly, there is a prohibition from bringing such a charge 30 years or so down the line."

He added: "What is the position where a middle-aged man has sexual intercourse with a teenager?

"Let me say from the outset that none of this should have happened.

"The girls were teenagers. The defendant was in his 40s and he had no one to blame but himself."

A note on a question of law of the 1956 Act was passed to the judge from the jury shortly after they today began their second day of deliberations.

Mr Justice Turner told jurors: "It is an offence to have sexual intercourse with a female under the age of 16 but no proceedings can be brought in relation to such an offence after 12 months had expired from the date of the offence.

"In this case it would be wholly impermissible for the prosecution to make such an allegation because 12 months had passed.

"However, the 20 counts you are dealing with relate to two offences.

"One is rape and the other category is indecent assault.

"Such a free standing offence of indecent assault is therefore not subject to the 12-month time limit so therefore it is permissible for the prosecution to bring these charges and permissible to bring charges of rape."

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: "Stuart Hall has been convicted of two indecent assaults and found not guilty of a number of further alleged sexual offences against two girls under the age of 16 in the 1970s.

"At the beginning of this trial he pleaded guilty to an indecent assault against one of the girls when she was intoxicated and at home in bed and today he has been found guilty by a jury of a further indecent assault in relation to the same victim. He will be sentenced next week.

"The jury has listened to all the evidence from the prosecution and defence and we of course respect the verdicts they have reached.

"We take all allegations of rape and sexual assault very seriously and victims should know that we will prosecute such cases where it is right to do so."

Adam Pemberton, assistant chief executive at Victim Support, said: "It takes tremendous courage to come forward and make a complaint about historical sexual abuse, and huge strength to give evidence in public before a packed court.

"Victims are scared they won't be believed and will be failed by the criminal justice system. It would be a tragedy if anyone decided not to seek help or justice because of a single case, verdict or incident, however high profile.

"Victim Support helped the women who testified against Stuart Hall through its Witness Service. We are committed to ensuring victims of historical sexual abuse everywhere get the help they need to give the best possible evidence in court."

The organisation said three Witness Service volunteers at Preston Crown Court supported seven prosecution witnesses during the trial, including the complainants.

Help included arranging pre-trial visits to the court for the witnesses giving evidence against Hall, so they understood the court process before they gave evidence. They were also offered special measures, but they all decided to face the defendant in court, Victim Support added.

Victim Support said Peter Wright QC, prosecuting, thanked the Witness Service for the behind-the-scenes help given to the complainants and witnesses, particularly for helping them stay calm while giving evidence.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Esseen of Lancashire Police said: "I respect the verdicts reached by the jury today and I thank them for giving these matters their consideration.

"Whenever anyone comes forward to the police to report allegations of a sexual nature, it is absolutely right that we carry out a professional investigation, which is what we have done in this case.

"We have recognised and considered the views and needs of the victims throughout this investigation and we will continue to offer them whatever support they need.

"We have worked closely with the Crown Prosecution Service throughout and all of the evidence was subject to careful scrutiny before a decision was taken to charge, in the belief that there was a realistic prospect of conviction.

"Lancashire Constabulary remains committed to investigating allegations of this nature, no matter how historic, and no matter who the alleged offender, and we would encourage anyone who has been a victim of a sexual offence to come forward safe in the knowledge that they will be treated sensitively and professionally."

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