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Charging Coronation Street actor Michael Le Vell was the right decision: DPP chief

By Jamie Grierson and Kim Pilling

The UK's top prosecutor has told MPs it was the "right decision" to pursue a prosecution of now-acquitted Coronation Street actor Michael Le Vell on child sex abuse charges.

Keir Starmer QC, outgoing director of public prosecutions, told the Home Affairs Select Committee a "proper assessment of the evidence was taken in the case".

His remarks come after Le Vell, known to millions of TV fans as the soap's garage owner and mechanic Kevin Webster, said he was looking forward to a drink after being cleared of 12 child sex offences at Manchester Crown Court on Tuesday.

Mr Starmer told the committee: "There is a safeguard within our system and that is at the end of the prosecution's case in court, it is not only open to the judge it is the duty of the judge to stop the case if there's no case to answer.

"That did not happen in this case, and therefore there was a case to answer. That case was answered and the jury took some time to consider their verdict.

"So it was a properly brought case, it's not a case on which there was no evidence, had it been it would have been stopped half way after testing of the evidence."

He added: "It is true, the test for the prosecutor is a realistic prospect of conviction and the test for the jury is whether the case is proved beyond all reasonable doubt having heard all the witnesses.

"But the fact that a decision was taken to start a case and it doesn't end up in conviction does not mean it was improperly brought.

"It's important we reaffirm that – that if a case results in an acquittal it shouldn't have been brought is wrong."

Le Vell (48) mouthed the words "thank you" to the jury of eight women and four men who dismissed a string of allegations made by his accuser, who claimed she had been raped and abused while a young girl.

Le Vell's aunt and several former Coronation Street colleagues claimed he had been taken to court just because of his celebrity status.

Earlier, Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service national lead on child sexual exploitation, said "nobody should be above the law" and it is the Crown's job to look at evidence, follow it wherever it may go and then present it.

Mr Afzal, who is also Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West, made the initial decision not to charge Le Vell after he was first arrested in September 2011 but that was later over-ruled by Alison Levitt QC, the principal legal adviser to the Director of Public Prosecutions for England.

Yesterday, Mr Afzal stressed that each case was assessed on its own merits, regardless of whether a suspect had a high public profile.

Speaking at a child sexual exploitation conference in Blackburn, Lancashire, he said: "Nobody should be above the law in this country."

He said he himself had been spoken of as a "celeb hunter".

"I don't even know what a 'celeb hunter' is," he said

Actor Ken Morley, who played supermarket manager Reg Holdsworth in Coronation Street, said of the Le Vell case: "It will make people realise there has been an element of hysteria."

QUOTES

"I absolutely detest this word 'witch-hunt'. It is not a witch-hunt. We look at the evidence. We follow the evidence. We present the evidence" – Nazir Afzal, Crown Prosecution Service

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